The Ittingen Charterhouse as visitors see it today.
The Ittingen Charterhouse as visitors see it today. Kunstmuseum Thurgau, Ittinger Museum

A packed programme of activities – painted on glass

A stained-glass work of exceptional artistic quality dating from 1588, on permanent loan from the Swiss National Museum, adds a touch of dramatic beauty to the Ittinger Museum in the Kartause Ittingen.

Cornelia Mechler

Cornelia Mechler

Head of Administration, Marketing and PR at Kunstmuseum Thurgau and Ittinger Museum, Kartause Ittingen

For centuries, the former monastery of the Ittingen Charterhouse near Frauenfeld was inhabited by monastic communities – first the Augustinians, and then the Carthusians. During the various stages of the dissolution of the monasteries, from the Reformation to the French Revolution and the abolition of the monasteries in Switzerland in around 1848, many monastery precincts came into private ownership or were repurposed by the local community. The new uses often resulted in substantial modifications, or even total destruction. In Ittingen, as luck would have it, not only have large parts of the complex been preserved, but the mainly agricultural lands surrounding the old cloistral property also survive. In 1867 Victor Fehr (1846-1938) from St Gallen took over the precinct and set up a highly successful farm. He continued to be involved in the farm until his death, although he had already handed over management to his son Edmund Fehr (1883-1965). After World War II, the Charterhouse suffered under the difficult economic conditions facing agriculture in Switzerland. In addition, it became increasingly difficult to keep up the necessary maintenance of the sizeable historical precinct. After Edmund Fehr’s death his heirs looked for a buyer, and negotiated with several interested parties before the property was finally sold to the Stiftung Kartause Ittingen (Ittingen Charterhouse Foundation) in 1977. With the rescue and sustainable revival of what is a historic monument in the broadest sense, the Ittingen Charterhouse has become a model case in cultural heritage preservation in Switzerland.
The Ittingen Charterhouse viewed from the south. By Johann Conrad Weber, around 1840.
The Ittingen Charterhouse viewed from the south. By Johann Conrad Weber, around 1840. Historisches Museum Thurgau

A loan that connects

For almost a year now, a glass painting of outstanding artistic quality on permanent loan from the Swiss National Museum has enriched the Ittinger Museum. The unusually large pane from 1588 was originally commissioned by the Ittingen Charterhouse, probably in the workshop of the Zurich glass painter Christoph Murer.
Stained-glass plate from the Ittingen Charterhouse, 1588.
Stained-glass plate from the Ittingen Charterhouse, 1588. Swiss National Museum
For both private individuals and corporate entities, the gifting of stained-glass works was a popular practice in order to ensure that institutions so endowed kept the donors in mind. The stained glass on loan bears an inscription mentioning the prior and convent of the Ittingen Charterhouse. There are also two Ittingen coats of arms. This indicates that the plate was probably produced not for presentation in Ittingen, but more likely as a prestigious gift. There is no information as to the recipient. It may have been the Buxheim Charterhouse near Memmingen, with which Ittingen had close ties. The heavily Carthusian subject matter of the plate would seem to support this.
The Swiss National Museum acquired the plate in 1891 when a private collection was auctioned in Constance. The approximately square plate is dominated by the circular central field depicting the General Chapter of the Carthusian order in the Grande Chartreuse. The assembly at the mother monastery of the priors of the various charterhouses was the legislative institution of the Carthusian order, which was organised on a strictly centralised basis. In depicting this scene featuring a large number of people, the artist has made an effort to use a wide variety of gestures and postures.
Central field of the stained-glass painting.
Central field of the stained-glass painting. Swiss National Museum
A ring with twelve individual scenes with inscriptions is arranged around this main scene. This is the legend of St. Bruno of Cologne, the founder of the Carthusian order. The life of the founder of the order is depicted, from a conversion experience in Reims, to retreating into solitude and the founding of the Grande Chartreuse, to a trip to Rome and Calabria.
Bishop Hugo welcomes Bruno and his companions.
Bishop Hugo welcomes Bruno and his companions. Swiss National Museum
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The construction of the Grande Chartreuse.
The construction of the Grande Chartreuse. Swiss National Museum
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Scenes from the legend of St Bruno: Bruno refuses the office of bishop.
Scenes from the legend of St Bruno: Bruno refuses the office of bishop. Swiss National Museum
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Bruno encounters Count Roger I of Hauteville in Calabria.
Bruno encounters Count Roger I of Hauteville in Calabria. Swiss National Museum
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Four more scenes are located in the four spandrels in the corners that form the square section of the plate. At the top there are two scenes from the life of St Lawrence, the patron saint of the Ittingen Charterhouse: the distribution of the church’s treasures to the poor, and his martyrdom on the gridiron. The two scenes at the bottom are dedicated to two important figures in the history of monasticism: on the left is St Anthony, who has withdrawn into the Egyptian desert with a group of like-minded people, and on the right is St Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism.
Upper left corner: Distributing the treasures of the church to the poor.
Upper left corner: Distributing the treasures of the church to the poor. Swiss National Museum
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Upper right corner: A martyr’s death on the gridiron
Upper right corner: A martyr’s death on the gridiron Swiss National Museum
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Lower left corner: St Anthony withdraws into the Egyptian desert with like-minded companions.
Lower left corner: St Anthony withdraws into the Egyptian desert with like-minded companions. Swiss National Museum
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Lower right corner: St Benedict, founder of Western monasticism
Lower right corner: St Benedict, founder of Western monasticism Swiss National Museum
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The stained glass plate will be on show in the winter refectory at Ittinger Museum, as part of a display featuring other painted glass works and depictions of St Bruno.

Ittinger Museum and Kunstmuseum Thurgau

The Ittingen Charterhouse has committed to continuing the values of the monastic tradition, and with that in mind the complex operates an education and conference centre, a farm with a cheese factory and vineyards, a restaurant, and a sheltered residential home and assisted employment scheme. It also houses the Kunstmuseum Thurgau, the Ittinger Museum and the tecum, the Evangelical Centre for Spirituality, Education and Community Building. With its superb collection and fascinating temporary exhibitions, the Kunstmuseum Thurgau offers an attractive counterpoint to the old-world idyll of the former monastery. Internationally renowned artists have designed new works specifically for the context of the Ittingen Charterhouse. The Ittinger Museum gives a vivid insight into the history of the buildings and their occupants. In the austere surroundings of the monks’ cells you can feel how the Carthusian monks sought closeness to God in silence and solitude, and the richly furnished dining room and magnificent Rococo church look as they did when the monks still lived and prayed here. It is hoped that the museums in the Ittingen Charterhouse will reopen for visiting from 1 March 2021. Go to konstanz360.de for a virtual visit.

Further posts

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Swiss National Museum

Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM).