Union Académique Internationale

Corpus Vitrearum

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Project nº16, adopted in 1956

The purpose and aim of the Corpus Vitrearum is the thorough expert recording of all historical stained glass, both in Europe and in US and Canadian museums, on the basis of common and binding guidelines. The research project, currently active in fourteen countries, was entrusted to the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA) immediately after its foundation in 1952, and since 1956 has been under the patronage of the Union Académique International (UAI). At first, under the name of Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi , the institution limited its work to the documenting of medieval stained glass. Since then, several countries’ committees (those of Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland) have expanded their era of research to include glass to the end of the Ancien Régime. In 2014, the General Assembly decided to open the project also for the exploration of works from 1800 to the present. The Corpus Vitrearum organization is based on the national committees of its member states, composed of authors, restorators and associated scientists. Every four years a board is elected from their ranks, composed of a President, two Vice-Presidents, one of whom is designated as Treasurer, and a Secretary. Corpus Vitrearum and ICOMOS also share an international committee for the conservation of stained glass (composed of a President, a Vice-President and a Secretary). Current member states are Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain with Catalonia, Switzerland and the United States of America. The Scandinavian countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia published their corpora of medieval stained glass in 1965 and 1975, and subsequently left the project. Funding and affiliation with the national academies of sciences are individually regulated by the different countries. The initiative for the systematic working on medieval stained glass came from the photographic documentation in relation to the rescuing of medieval glazing during the Second World War. Individual initiatives were concentrated by the Swiss art historian Hans R. Hahnloser and led, in 1952 during the International Congress for the History of Art in Amsterdam, to the foundation of the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA), the first enterprise of art history to be organized at an international level. The panels of stained glass – decimated and partly replaced over the centuries as well as, more recently, affected by environmental factors – are photographically documented and subjected to a critical autopsy, panel by panel. All traces of maintenance and restoration measures undertaken over time, usually only visible from up close, are documented by means of schematic drawings. The entire process is reconstructed, on the basis of thorough archival research, in the chapters on the history of the glazing itself and its restoration. The windows are then examined with respect to their iconographic program and artistic context, as well as their function within the church’s interior space. The results are published in the shape of monographs, arranged topographically by region and in accordance with the guidelines agreed on by the International Corpus Vitrearum (www.corpusvitrearum.org /Guidelines), and in this way presented to their expert audience. In the 66 years (to date) that have passed since its inception, c. 140 Corpus volumes have been published, among them 92 monographs on the stained glass of individual buildings, cities and regions, 25 volumes in the Recensement, Summary Catalogue and Checklist series, and 22 Studies and Occasional Papers on select key subjects. There are also the proceedings of the international colloquia (www.corpusvitrearum.org /Status of Publications). The regular colloquia represent the most important tool for expert exchange and a close interconnection of the Corpus Vitrearum scientific community. Originally taking place at irregular intervals, two-year intervals have been introduced after 1982, and the members of the Corpus Vitrearum International Committee have been meeting biennially since then (with one exception). Among the more recent venues have been Antwerp (2018), Troyes (2016), York (2014), Vienna (2012), St Petersburg (2010), Zurich (2008), Tours (2006), Nuremberg (2004), Brussels (2002), and Bristol (2000). A careful cultivation of the three official Corpus Vitrearum languages – English, French and German – safeguards communication. Young researchers are invited to attend the colloquia on a regular basis, and by that means are encouraged to continue the work begun in 1952.