Fritz Adolf Becker, 1907
Executed by the Deutsche Glasmosaik-Gesellschaft Puhl & Wagner, Berlin, 1907
Intended for the Passionskirche in Berlin-Kreuzberg by the architect Theodor Astfalck (1852-1910)
103,4 × 105,5 cm
A glass mosaic made up of gold and silver smalti-glasses of various hues, antique glass, flashed red glass; painted on the internal face with brown glass-paint, with black glass-paint applied in some parts on the external face; leading.
The uniqueness of this panel is found in its use of transparent gold and silver smalti-glasses, for which the Berlin Firm of Puhl & Wagner obtained a German imperial patent. The smalti-glasses were produced in the studio’s own glass manufactury. In 1914, Gottfried Heinersdorff declared himself delighted by this ’important discovery’, which consisted of fusing exceptionally thin leaves of gold between two layers of glass. This created a type of glass that had an effect both at day-time and at night-time. When light shines through the panel, the smalti-glasses are barely distinguishable from antique glasses, which lose their powers of illumination at dusk and turn window openings into black surfaces. The smalti-glasses however sparkle in a metallic manner when artificial light or candlelight falls on them, transforming any room at night into a world of festivity and fairy-tale, reminiscent of the wall mosaics in Byzantine churches. The small compartments delineated by the leading emphasize the mosaic character of the panel.
Most gold-mosaic windows were destroyed during the Second World War, and we know of only one other window by Fritz Adolf Becker, with a representation of the Berlin bear, which was executed for the Grosse Berliner Kunstausstellung of 1907 and is now in the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows in Chicago. Even Bruno Taut’s glass-house made for the Kölner Werkbundausstellung of 1914 featured Puhl & Wagner smalti-glasses. From a design book in the firm’s archive, we know that this gold-mosaic panel with the head of Christ was intended as the centrepiece of a Romanesque-style rose in the Passionskirche built by Theodor Astfalck between 1905 and 1907 in Kreuzberg (Berlin).
From the thematic and formal points of view, the image is laden with references to early Christian iconography. The strongly frontal head of Christ stands in the Byzantine tradition of the vera icon. The four bundles of rays in the nimbus symbolize both the Son of God illumined by the Holy Spirit and the cross. The octofoil around the nimbus could be intended as a representation of eternity, the four stars as symbols of the evangelists, and the band that encircles the whole as a symbol of the perfection of creation.
Becker’s collaboration with the Puhl & Wagner workshop may well have coincided with the start of his work as a teacher at the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum, which he began around 1905. Becker produced windows and mosaics for churches, banks, cafés and department stores, some of them in the United States of America. All traces of him disappear after 1933.
Gottfried Heinersdorff, Die Glasmalerei, ihre Technik und ihre Geschichte, Berlin, 1914, pp. 31–34 (with the quotation on p. 34)
Wände aus Farbigem Glas. Das Archiv der Vereinigten Werkstätten für Mosaik und Glasmalerei Puhl & Wagner und Gottfried Heinersdorff, Ausstellungskatalog Berlinische Galerie, 1989, pp. 26 and 35 n. 18 (on the technique), p. 154 (on F.A. Becker)
This text was originally published in Jutta Dresch (ed.), Glasmalerei der Moderne: Faszination Farbe im Gegenlicht, catalogue of the exhibition at the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe 9 July – 9 October 2011, Karlsruhe, 2011, pp. 137f