Munich’s Royal Glass
Posted on March 15, 2019
In 1847, Joseph Gabriel Mayer of Munich, Germany, sought to reignite the art of the Middle Ages Cathedral building trades. To do so, he adapted his Institute of Christian Art Works to include fine arts, sculpture, stained glass production, architecture, and painting. Both himself and his son in law Fanz Xavier Zettler, who would strike out on his own in 1870, transitioned the stained glass industry toward a sense of depth, realism, and color previously unknown.
Together the duo developed the “Munich Style” of glass windows, bringing with it a cultural narrative of style and meaning, and achieving unprecedented success by painting the religious scenes (they predominantly worked on churches and Cathedrals) on large sheets of glass before fusing the glass through firing in intense heat. Their amalgamated style reflected both the emotional European Romantic style of painting and the ornateness of German Baroque architecture.
Zettler and his Royal Bavarian Art Institute became known for its clearness of glass, rich use in color, harmonious designs, and technological innovations. Also, he was the first to introduce three point perspective to stained glass windows and is considered the master of this technique.
Later on, both the Munich Style and the three point techniques would be adapted by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the more commonly known American Art Noveau stained glass master and son of Charles Tiffany — founder of Tiffany and Company.
Zettler’s legacy comes from the unique relationship between craftsman and craft, and their chosen theological subject matter which nourished the senses of physical and spiritual beauty. Their fame grew due to their familiarity with Christian iconography and their works can be found in religious buildings throughout North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
Both the Mayer and Zettler firms played a critical role in preserving and restoring stained glass in Europe throughout the 20th century. During this turbulent time, they removed and safeguarded windows from many of the medieval cathedrals of Europe. Newly commissioned windows were sometimes buried for preservation and united with the client after each war. After the World Wars the two firms worked diligently to restore damaged windows throughout Europe.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado contains 75 of F.X. Zettler’s crafted windows — more than any other church of any denomination in America. According to the Basilica’s website, over fifty of the Royal Bavarian Art Institute’s craftsmen oversaw the creation of their windows. Today, a single transept window would cost over half a million dollars, however, in 1912 the total cost of its 75 windows was $34,000.
Originally a small wooden chapel built in 1874, the Sacred Heart Basilica of Timaru, New Zealand, was reconstructed in 1907 using plans created by Dunedin architect Frank Petre. The Zettler windows above were donated by the family of James Sullivan and depict Christ as the Good Shepherd, the Annunciation, and Christ’s sermon on the mount.
Whether in New Zealand, Denver, or around the world these depictions of the Biblical authors not only brought emotional fulfillment to their patrons but have created a personal connection and meaning with the following generations. In 1939, the two firms, F. X. Zettler Co. and Mayer & Company, merged and the conglomerate is still in operation today as Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc.