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The dominant figure in American decorative arts for more than half a century, Louis Comfort Tiffany founded several firms to satisfy the strong demand for his art glass, metalwork, pottery and furniture. Tiffany's enthusiasm for sensuous materials and striking colors found full expression in his stained-glass windows. From 1877 through the 1920s, he and his craftsmen produced thousands of windows for churches, institutions and homes across the United States.
Upon the death of her husband in 1901, Mrs. Benjamin Harrison commissioned Tiffany to create a window in his memory. The window, the lower half of which appears here, was installed in 1905 at the First Presbyterian Church, 16th and Delaware Streets, Indianapolis, where the president had served as an elder for more than 40 years. Absorbed in scores of projects, Tiffany probably left the window's conception to his team of talented designers, contributing his own thought before giving final approval. The design shows Michael, the Angel of the Resurrection, signaling the dead to rise at Christ's second coming. In keeping with the romanticism of the time, Tiffany's heroic angel is dressed in the chain mail suit of a crusading knight and seems like a figure from Sir Walter Scott's novels.
Tiffany manufactured all the glass for his windows, and the Tiffany Furnaces at one time had over 5,000 different colors and varieties in stock. Mottled glass, a hallmark of Tiffany's creations, appears throughout the Harrison window. Its swirling opalescent and iridescent finishes are the result of adding chemicals to the cooling molten glass. Drapery glass, used to superb effect in Michael's robes, was a Tiffany invention achieved by manipulating hot, viscous sheets of glass until the desired cloth-like folds appeared. Another textural variation occurs in the angel's wings, where the Tiffany craftsmen ruffled the glass surface in imitation of feathers.
Also innovative was Tiffany's assembly of the windows. The leading does not just hold the glass in place; it defines the contours of the windows' images and creates decorative linear patterns. Tiffany also perfected the plating technique, in which glass sheets are sandwiched on top of each other, producing extraordinary effects of color and depth. The deep blue inner ring behind the angel has five separate layers, creating a dark background that increases the window's drama. Typical of Tiffany's efficiency, he used the enormous amount of scrap glass from his window production to make the vibrantly colored lampshades for which he may be best known.
Commissioned by Mrs. Benjamin Harrison as a memorial to her husband for the First-Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis; donated by them to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1972 (72.75).