Memorial Hall has one of the largest collections of "secular" stained glass in the world. Installed between 1879-1902, the visuals represent both innovative and modern interpretations of stained glass art, as well as influences from traditional European styles.
The installations were commissioned by the Harvard Corporation, a group of alumni responsible for design and fundraising for Memorial Hall. The group had strict criteria for their stained glass collection. Each piece needed to contain one or more upright lifesize figures, an ornamental panel or inscription on the ventilator panel below, a border or canopy, and finally, all figures should be typical or historical and prior to the time of Shakespeare. This last point has been the greatest area of flexibility; over time, the label "typical or historical" has expanded to include allegorical figures as well.
Multidisciplinary stained glass artist John La Farge is responsible for creating four of the window designs in Memorial Hall, as well as a window in Sanders Theatre. La Farge was one of the first to use the opalescent style of stained glass (seen here), a technique in which colors are mixed in streaks and swirls to create a milky, iridescent appearance. La Farge also used a technique called "plating" in which glass is layered to create texture and depth.
One of La Farge's panels is "Battle Window," which, unlike the other stained glass, depicts a continuous scene rather than one figure. This piece was a gift of the Class of 1860, which lost 12 classmates to the Civil War.
Boston artist Sarah Wyman Whitman, one of the only female glass artists of her time, is also featured in Memorial Hall's collection. Her allegorical "Honor and Peace" is a prominent wall in the main hall, and her largest piece, "The Martin Brimmer Memorial Window," is located in the south transept.
A painter-turned-trailblazing glass maker, Wyman Whitman studied with La Farge in the 1880s, opened her own studio, and became an innovator of American modern stained glass. Known also for her prolific book cover illustrations, she later founded the Society of Arts and Crafts, and co-founded both Radcliffe College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in order to promote equitable access to education for women and people of color. Three more of her window designs hang in the Radcliffe Institute.