Corcoran Returns Stained Glass Windows to Belgium’s Park Abbey

The panels, commissioned in the 17th century, will be repatriated and restored.

December 14, 2015
For decades, a trio of stained-glass windows created by the Flemish artist Jan de Caumont lived quietly at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s 17th Street building. 
Few people knew their history: The windows had come from an abbey in Leuven, Belgium. In the 1820s, the abbey fell on hard times and began selling its artistic treasures and furnishings. The three windows were among many pieces that filtered through the hands of art collectors.
They were eventually purchased by American mining magnate and arts aficionado William A. Clark, who was drawn to Belgian monastic aesthetics. He was a major benefactor of the Corcoran Gallery and left the windows—and the better-known gilded Salon D’Ore period room—to the arts institution. 
Now, almost two centuries later, the windows are going back to their original home in Belgium. The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design removed the pieces last week and sent them back to Park Abbey, where conservationists have eagerly awaited their safe return.  
“I was fortunate enough, during my initial two months as director, to enjoy these beautiful and historic stained glass windows in the historic Clark Wing of the Corcoran,” Director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Sanjit Sethi said. “As we move forward with our renovations and our expansion of the Corcoran School, the return of these windows to their original home is, I think, a fitting conclusion to their time at the Corcoran.”
The windows had not been public for decades—they had been installed in a room closed off to gallery visitors. The panels depict the life of Saint Norbert, a wandering preacher who founded the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré. He was canonized by Pope Gregory XIII.
Park Abbey has slowly been working to regain the art it sold in the 19th century. They acquired other windows in 1937, 1971 and 1993. The three panels from the Corcoran help its mission of bringing the abbey back to its original grandeur. 
Contractors spent two and a half days delicately removing the panels from the Flagg building last week. The windows were comprised of six separate sections, so four specialists had to detach the 17th century marvels and clean them carefully. Experts are currently preparing to ship each piece to Belgium.