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by Beverley Sherry

Shakespeare (1564-1616) has been much in the news this year, the four hundredth anniversary of his death. Anniversaries of his birth, however, are more cause for celebration. In Australia, the three hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1864 was such an occasion, and it was a time when local stained glass firms were beginning to be established, designing glass not only for churches but also for public buildings and houses.[1]

Shakespeare in public and institutional buildings

In 1862, looking forward to the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1864, Australia’s earliest stained glass firm, Ferguson & Urie of Melbourne, designed a unique Shakespeare window, a full-length portrait showing Shakespeare with pen in hand and holding a page inscribed “All the World’s a Stage” (from Jacques’ speech on “The Seven Ages of Man” from As You Like It).

1 Shakespeare. Photo Geoffrey Wallace

Figure 1 Shakespeare, State Library of Victoria, originally in Apollo Music Hall, Melbourne. By Ferguson & Urie, 1862. Photo: Geoffrey Wallace

Appropriately, the window was commissioned by the theatrical entrepreneur George Coppin (1819-1906) and installed in the Apollo Music Hall of his newly built Haymarket Theatre in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Shakespeare dominated the centre light, more than three metres high, and was flanked by side lights portraying Hamlet, Falstaff, Lady Macbeth, and Beatrice. Ferguson & Urie took the figure of Shakespeare from a marble sculpture made by the French artist Louis-François Roubiliac in 1758. The sculpture had been commissioned by the great Shakespearean actor David Garrick (1717-1779) and installed in his Palladian “Temple to Shakespeare” near his villa on the Thames at Hampton.[2]

2 Shakespeare at the British Library

Figure 2  Shakespeare, British Library, originally in Garrick’s “Temple to Shakespeare” on the Thames at Hampton. By Louis-François Roubiliac, 1758.  Photo: Jennifer Howes

The stance of Shakespeare and even the details of buttons left undone have been copied by Ferguson & Urie from Roubiliac’s sculpture, but the page with “All the World’s a Stage” has been added. Most striking, though, is the radical difference in medium: Roubiliac’s cool marble, right for Garrick’s Palladian temple, is in stark contrast to the hectic colours of Ferguson & Urie’s stained glass version. Their Shakespeare is showy, flamboyant, and just right for a theatrical setting.

The window remained in the Apollo Music Hall until about 1870, when it was removed to Coppin’s residences and suffered varying fortunes during which the side lights were lost. Miss Lucy Coppin at least had the foresight to bequeath the Shakespeare portrait to the State Library of Victoria. In 2005 it was restored by Geoffrey Wallace and installed at the top of the La Trobe Reading Room.[3]

A few years before the Shakespeare of Coppin’s theatre, another portrait of Shakespeare had appeared in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney as part of the grand program of windows designed by Clayton & Bell of London and installed in 1859.

3 Shakespeare Great Hall University of Sydney. Clayton & Bell, 1857. Photo Jasmine Allen

Figure 3 Shakespeare, flanked by other dramatists Beaumont & Fletcher and Ford & Massinger, Great Hall University of Sydney. By Clayton & Bell, 1859. Photo: Jasmine Allen

In all kinds of educational buildings – universities, schools, libraries – Shakespeare was a favourite.  In 1880 Ferguson & Urie portrayed Shakespeare again in the large window they designed for the Great Hall of the Brisbane Grammar School. The twentieth century saw the State Library of New South Wales recognising Shakespeare through the Shakespeare Place sculptural group (1926) and the Shakespeare windows (c.1940) in the Shakespeare Room. This is a small gem of a room that houses the Tercentenary Shakespeare Library and is replete with linen-fold panelling and an elaborate Tudor ceiling.  Directly in view as one enters the room are the stained glass windows designed by the Sydney artist Arthur Benfield (1912-1988) portraying “The Seven Ages of Man”.

4 Shakespeare windows State Library of NSW. Infant; School Boy. Photo Douglass Baglin.

Figure 4  The Infant and the Schoolboy from Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man. Shakespeare Room, State Library of NSW. By Arthur Benfield, c.1940. Photo: Douglass Baglin

5 The Soldier, Shakespeare Room State Library of NSW. Photo Douglass Baglin

Figure 5  The Soldier from Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man. Shakespeare Room, State Library of NSW. By Arthur Benfield, c.1940. Photo: Douglass Baglin

Shakespeare in residential buildings

When we turn to residential buildings, various themes from the arts were lavishly depicted in stained glass in the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a way of expressing social and cultural values and aspirations, and the Bard of Avon was a favourite.

The most impressive example was surely at Norwood (1891), a mansion built in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton for the Jewish financier Mark Moss, one of the wealthiest of Melbourne’s merchant princes of the nineteenth-century boom years. It was a massive seven-light window designed by the Melbourne artist William Montgomery (1850-1927) and placed in the baronial entrance hall of Norwood.  Intended to pull up the visitor in his tracks, it was composed of 35 panels, portraying characters from Shakespeare, a view of Stratford-upon-Avon, a portrait of Shakespeare, and seven figures  representing Jacques’ ‘Seven Ages of Man’.  The artist Montgomery was an enthusiastic advocate and spokesman for the use of stained glass in residences and his Shakespeare window at Norwood must have been, in terms of magnitude at least, his pièce de résistance. Lamentably, Norwood was demolished in the 1950s and the windows lost and or dispersed, but Roland Johnson, who lived in the house, has written a history on Norwood that leaves us in no doubt as to the effect of the stained glass.  He writes “These windows dominate the hall: in fact they dominate the house itself, almost as if the house was built around them’, and he remembers best of all ‘Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” stretching across the seven columns of windows, in the middle row’.[4]

6 Shakespeare window Norwood. Brighton Vic. 1891-1

Figure 6 Norwood interior with the Shakespeare window by William Montgomery, 1891. Reproduced from Roland Johnson, Norwood, p. 3

Norwood was lost, but fortunately Shakespearean figures designed by Montgomery survive around the front door of Cullymont (c.1890) in the Melbourne suburb of Canterbury, and stunning Shakespeare windows, attributed to Montgomery, grace the entrance of Cumbooquepa, now Somerville House School in Brisbane. Cumbooquepa was built as a residence in 1889 for William Stephens, son of Thomas Blacket Stephens, an early pioneer of Brisbane, and the entrance was designed to impress. The foyer is paved in black and white marble, and set in four alcoves around the foyer are windows portraying full-length figures of Shakespearean heroines – Rosalind, Beatrice, Viola, and Portia – with their names and appropriate quotations beneath each figure together with Thomas Blacket Stephens’ monogram TBS.

7 Cumbooquepa Brisbane. Viola. Photo Douglass Baglin-1

Figure 7 Viola, Cumbooquepa, now Somerville House School, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Douglass Baglin

In residences, the mere presence of Shakespeare was fashionable, socially impressive, and evocative of old England and the romantic past, themes beloved of William Montgomery. The Queenslander was even running a column in the 1890s entitled “In Shakespeare’s Day”. Shakespearean themes were depicted not only in stained glass but on tiles around fireplaces and on ceilings. The Sydney firm of Lyon, Cottier & Co. had a standard portrait of Shakespeare which they executed in stained glass for St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney in 1876 and for the library of Booloominbah (1888) in Armidale (NSW), and also as part of a painted ceiling in the library of Glenleigh (c.1882) on the Nepean River (NSW).[5]

8 Shakespeare 1 St Andrew's

Figure 8 Shakespeare, St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney. By Lyon, Cottier & Co., 1876. Photo: Douglass Baglin

9 Shakespeare, Glenleigh, Nepean River. Lyon & Cottier, 1880s.

Figure 9 Shakespeare, Glenleigh, Regentville (NSW). By Lyon, Cottier & Co., c.1882. Photo: Beverley Sherry

Shakespeare has been celebrated throughout the world in stained glass and notable examples are in Harvard’s Memorial Hall; the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC (the Seven Ages of Man); the King Edward VI Grammar School at Chelmsford, Essex; the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver; Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (the Seven Ages of Man); and Southwark Cathedral (21 Shakespearean characters plus the Seven Ages of Man).

 10 Shakespeare window Carnegie Centre Vancouver. N.T.Lyon, Toronto, 1905. Photo by Dan Feeney

Figure 10 Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser: central panels of staircase window Carnegie Centre, Vancouver. By Nathaniel Lyon, 1905. Photo: Dan Feeney


[1] See Beverley Sherry, Australia’s Historic Stained Glass (Sydney: Murray Child, 1991).

[2] In 1779 Garrick bequeathed the sculpture to the British Museum, and it now stands in the Main Hall of the British Library, St Pancras, London. His Temple to Shakespeare has recently been restored and a replica of the sculpture installed. See “Garrick’s Villa and Temple to Shakespeare”, Richmond Libraries Local Studies Collection: http://www.richmond.gov.uk/local_history_garricks_villa.pdf and Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare Newsletter Issue 1 (Spring 2008): http://www.garrickstemple.org.uk/newsletters/newsletter%202008/index.html

[3] Mimi Colligan, “’That Window has a History’: the Shakespeare Window at the State Library”, La Trobe Journal 78 (Spring 2006): 94+ and Geoffrey Wallace, “Conservation of the Shakespeare Window,” La Trobe Journal 78 (Spring 2006): 104+.  See also Ray Brown’s valuable research on the window:   https://fergusonandurie.wordpress.com/?s=Shakespeare&submit=Search

[4] Roland Johnson, Norwood: It changed the face of Melbourne (Portarlington [Vic]: The Publishing Company, 2013). See also Bronwyn Hughes’s PhD thesis, “Designing Stained Glass for Australia 1887-1927: The Art and Professional Life of William Montgomery” (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2007), see volume I, pp. 158-59 on the Shakespeare window and the ball room windows at Norwood.

[5] For stained glass expressing family, social, and cultural values, see Sherry, Australia’s Historic Stained Glass Chapter 3 (“Houses”) and Chapter 4 (“Public Buildings”). Since the publication of my book, I have discovered many more examples, including the work of Lyon & Cottier at Glenleigh. See also my essay “Stained Glass” (2011) in the online Dictionary of Sydney: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/stainedglass

The assistance of Ray Brown  https://fergusonandurie.wordpress.com/     Patrick Burns, Founding Director and Chief Photographer, Institute for Stained Glass in Canada and Roland Johnson, one of the last family to reside at Norwood is gratefully acknowledged.


Dr Beverley Sherry is a Contributor to the Glaas in Research site and a valued member of the Glaas Advisory Group.  Her career includes appointments at the University of Queensland, where she was a Senior Lecturer in English, the Australian National University, and the University of Sydney, where she is now an Honorary Associate.  Her main field is English literature, particularly the works of John Milton, and she is an internationally recognized Milton scholar.  However, her work has always been cross-disciplinary, especially in literature and the visual arts, and she considers her book Australia’s Historic Stained Glass (1991) her most pioneering work. It documents stained glass in churches, houses, and public buildings, drawing examples from every state and both rural and urban areas. The book has never been superseded and is now recognised as the authoritative work on the subject.