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The New Bee and Butterfly Window

By Paul San Casciani

Subject and Interpretation

My representation of the destroyed faithfully depicts the butterflies and bee, and the figure of Saint Peter of the previous window. The background, instead of copying the static squares of the previous design, is enlivened with movement. The cause of the movement is the bird of fire, the legendary Phoenix, with its flaming wings outspread at the bottom of the window, the flame-like feathers swirling round each butterfly plaque. In early Christianity this ancient symbol was adopted as an emblem of the death and resurrection of the Saviour because the myth tells us that there is only one phoenix: and every 500 years (or more, according to varying traditions) the bird makes a nest of spice-tree branches and offers itself as a sacrifice, calling on the sun to set light to its pyre. Out of its ashes it is reborn.

The wings of my depiction of the phoenix are flamboyant - literally shaped like energetic flames - and in this creative crucible reappear the butterflies of the locality and one of the Patrons of the Church, Saint Peter. There is also a hint of a treelike structure in these flaming wings, suggesting the ‘Tree of Life’ on which all living creatures depend and a reference to Moses’ experience of the burning bush which god set alight with sacred fire.

Incorporated into the bottom of the window are several pieces of conserved fire-crazed original glass depicting (from right to left) Emperor Moth (female); Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly; Large Copper Butterfly female (underside); Bee; Large Tortoiseshell Butterfly; Apollo Butterfly; Camberwell Beauty Butterfly. Above, I have painted in a more meticulous style than the originals, from top (reading clockwise): Emperor Hawk Moth; Apollo Butterfly; Scarlet Tiger Moth; Wall Brown Butterfly; Emperor Moth (male); Bee; Large Tortoiseshell Butterfly; Large Copper Butterfly (male); Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly; Camberwell Beauty Butterfly.

Techniques and Materials

I have used the traditional techniques of glass-painting, in which I was trained as a young man, realistically to depict the butterflies and moths and bee. All the details are painted on with a dark brown pigment; the yellow hues are achieved with an oxide of silver and other colours are enamels. All colours are fired for permanence.

The entire area of the ruby-red phoenix on its blue background has required time-consuming acid-etching work, and consists of two layers of glass put together - termed ‘plating’. The glass of the phoenix and its flames is flashed ruby-on-white; the background flashed French blue-on-white. To understand the technique in detail, for instance: the large piece of glass on which the phoenix head is shown is ruby-on-white with the ruby layer removed by acid to leave only the silhouette of the head in red; it is backed with a blue-on-white piece which has had the head etched away to white glass, then the two layers are put together giving the effect of the red head on a blue background. This same technique applies to all the red details on blue background Where the wings show white streaks, the ruby layer has been etched away, and oxide of silver applied on the back which when fired turns yellow-gold.

There is detailed glass-painting in the vesica-shaped panel of Saint Peter. His robe is violet enamel; His orange undergarment is oxide of silver creating a yellow stain, over painted with a light brown enamel to achieve the orange hue.

For photographs of butterflies photographed locally, please click here.

Bee and Butterfly Window