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New Stained Glass Is Coming to Germany’s Oldest Monastery

Gerhard Richter is set to design a trio of windows for the Benedictine Tholey Abbey

The earliest recorded reference to Tholey Abbey dates to 634 A.D. (Public domain)
smithsonian.com

Inspired by the popular windows Marc Chagall created for France’s Metz Cathedral, German organist Bernhard Leonardy set out in search of the “Chagall of our day” to create a trio of stained glass windows for the country’s oldest monastery, the Benedictine Tholey Abbey in Saarland.

Gerhard Richter, a painter, photographer and multimedia artist whose abstract works first came to the fore during the 1960s, was a natural choice for the commission. And, after some urging, Richter—arguably the country’s preeminent modern artist—agreed to design the stained glass for the 5th-century church’s choir.

Now, Kate Brown reports for artnet News, the abbey is scheduled to debut Richter’s designs on September 4. Since the historic house of worship is currently closed for renovations, the proposed window patterns will be displayed on giant banners adorning the church’s exterior.

Per Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Richter's vision will unite art and music, using the stained glass as an opportunity to create a visual manifestation of musical compositions by longtime friend and collaborator Arvo Pärt, an Estonian composer.

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Richter designed an abstract stained glass window for Cologne Cathedral in 2007 (Raimond Spekking via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The abbey windows are Richter’s second stained glass commission for a historic church. In 2007, the artist designed a monumental window for the south transept of Cologne Cathedral. Measuring roughly 30 by 75 feet, the work consists of 11,500 panes of glass. Some are arranged randomly, according to the artist’s website, while others were deliberately placed based on the church’s architecture. Altogether, the squares represent 72 different colors.

The windows will be Tholey Abbey’s only non-figurative stained glass. (Munich-based artist Mahbuba Maqsoodi, who won the commission by prevailing in an international competition, is set to design the church’s remaining windows.)

Father Wendelinus Naumann, a Benedictine monk and the abbey’s spokesperson, tells Christian and Thomas Funck of German newspaper St. Wendeler Land Nachrichten that he once thought there was no chance of securing Richter for the commission. Although the artist, now 87, was initially hesitant based on the scale of the project and his personal health, Leonardy’s intervention and exchanges with abbey representatives convinced Richter to say “yes.”

Although production is expected to begin immediately, with installation following over the coming months, Brown of artnet writes that the windows will likely remain under wraps until restoration work is finished around summer 2020.

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