"[Louis Comfort Tiffany]'s windows surpassed in quality and quantity, any that had preceded them." This quote, from the fly leaf of Alastair Duncan's book, Tiffany Windows (1980), an indispensable resource for Tiffany researchers, just begins to touch on their significance. In this book, Old First's two windows are included in an inventory of Tiffany stained glass. Upon reviewing the many colored plates, a similarity is noted between our windows and others in the book, most noticeably a resemblance between The Parable of the Talents and flanking panels of a window in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Paterson, New Jersey, The River of the Water of Life, described as, "…one of Tiffany's most successful ecclesiastical commissions." The dark color scheme and design elements, such as the massive columns and lintels, are similar in both.
These windows are less unified thematically than the Heinigke and Bowen windows on the opposite wall, but are unified via a similar color palette, which was employed by three separate studios.
The crown in the central medallion of this third massive Rose, above the trio, represents the Kingdom of God.
One can see perched to the right of this ensemble, a magnificent pipe organ designed and built by the Roosevelt Organ Works for this specific site; it is fully attuned to the sanctuary’s impeccable acoustics. One cannot imagine the church without either its stained glass or its towering music; the two cannot be separated.
Old First views its sanctuary holistically, honoring all of the arts and senses. The 1890 Steinway grand piano was restored ca 2010, benefiting music groups and concert goers, and enlivening the services. Currently it is on loan to our neighbors at Congregation Beth Elohim while we work on the sanctuary. As to the organ, restoration will be ongoing. This great room already reverberates with its restored foundation tones; the base sounds rumble aloft to the spaces around and above these glorious windows, bringing the 1890s alive, the heyday of Brooklyn, when the instruments were new and the windows were bright.
Suydam Family Memorial Window
The dedication of this window is to the Suydam Family, descended from Hydrick Rycken who came to America in 1663. In 1710 his family adopted as their surname the name of his birthplace Suyt-dam meaning “South of the Dam”. The white chrysanthemums in the border are softly sculptured pieces of heavy opalescent glass. The window was given by James Schoonmaker Sudyam, a banker and son of Moses and Mary (Schoonmaker) Suydam, who lived on Lincoln Place. James was a deacon at Old First.
If you are interested in learning more about the Cortelyou family of Old First, browse the History of the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Breuckelen, now known as The First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, 1654 to 1896, put out by the Consistory of Old First in 1896, which is searchable online through Google Books.
The Empty Tomb
In the lancet on the right hand side we find the story of the Empty Tomb of the Resurrection. At the top of this window is an open Bible. The scene is of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene being greeted by an angel at the now empty tomb on Easter morning. This window follows the account of Matthew 28, while the great painting above the chancel by Virgilio Tojetti, follows Luke. The delicate shades of glass depict the sunrise. On the left side not visible in this photograph, are three small crosses on the hill of Calvary. The inscription in the panel below reads, “He is not here, he has risen,” Matthew 28:6, “And if Christ be not risen, your faith is in vain."
Several stained glass experts believe this panel also to be a Tiffany. Due to the darkness of the panel's lexan and distance from the floor, it is hard to see.
Thankfully Wayne Boucher again came to the rescue by discovering an ad in the "Catalog of Exhibition 1892" printed the same year by the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (of which architect George L. Morse was a founding member in the Architecture Department). This ad, placed by Heuser and Hausleiter, announces, "Among the Memorial Windows we have placed in various Churches we beg to call special attention to the "Mason Memorial" and "Spence Memorial" in the handsome new Dutch Reformed Church, on Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street, Brooklyn." This is very exciting because it might the the second very early William Willet artwork at Old First, the first being the Mason window also mentioned.
The memorial panels, below, are exceptionally lovely.
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© All photographs and images are copyrighted and require permission from artist to download or use. Photographs are by Jane Barber unless otherwise noted.
Written content edited from many sources previously produced by the Church and by Rev. Daniel Meeter.