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Baltic Exchange Memorial Glass
Location: National Maritime Museum, floor one - see floor plans
The Virtue Windows
The subjects of these windows are the Virtues of Hope, Fortitude, Justice, Truth and Faith. The Romans established a long list of virtues as qualities to which all human beings should aspire. The early Christian Church adopted some of these as principal codes of conduct, which could eventually be attained through the Christian faith. The virtues are common themes in Medieval and Renaissance art where they are traditionally depicted as women.
Photographs of the virtue windows are courtesy of Goddard & Gibbs, London.
Truth represents honesty when dealing with others. Truth was an important virtue to Roman citizens. Interestingly, the symbolism of the snake and mirror, which appear on this window, are more traditionally associated with the virtue of Prudence. The snake traditionally symbolizes caution, while the mirror reflects a true image to the observer.
One of the most severely damaged of the virtue windows, this window depicts the virtue of faith, representing belief in God. Faith carries a cross-headed staff in her hand, symbolizing Christianity, while the child to her left reads from the gospels.
The virtue of Fortitude represents strength and courage in times of trouble. Here, a cherub presents Fortitude with a sword or mace, a symbol of strength and protection. She is guided through troubled times by the light of the torch that she holds aloft.
This window shows the virtue of Hope which represents aspirations of happiness. Hope may also refer to the desire for victory and lasting peace. Hope is shown resting her right hand on an anchor, symbolic of the stability that she brings during times of difficulty.
This was the central window in the war memorial at the Baltic Exchange. In Justice’s right hand she holds a sword, which signifies the right of the law to exact punishment for offences, and in her left, scales which symbolize the impartiality with which justice is administered.
Baltic Exchange Memorial Glass
Shortly after the First World War, the artist John Dudley Forsyth (1874–1926) was commissioned to design a series of stained glass windows for the Baltic Exchange. These windows formed part of a memorial to the 60 members of the Exchange who lost their lives during the war.
Forsyth's stained glass was unveiled in 1922. It consisted of a half-dome and five large windows below, which were installed over a staircase to the lower floor. The subject is heroic and likens the British Empire to the Roman Empire.
The dome and windows were made up of many pieces of carefully selected coloured glass, which were painted and stained by skilled glass painters to represent the human figures, architectural and floral detail of Forsyth's original design. After firing, the glass pieces were assembled into windows and held together by a network of lead strips.
Forsyth was trained by the prolific stained-glass artist, Henry Holiday (1839–1927), one of the leaders in the Victorian revival of this medieval craft. Forsyth's work is much admired for its skilful composition and bold use of colour, which is clearly seen in the glass from the Baltic Exchange.
Restoring the Glass
During the evening of 10 April 1992, a bomb exploded outside the Baltic Exchange. The explosion killed three people and caused severe damage to the building, including Forsyth's stained glass windows.
Of the 240 panels in the dome, only 45 remained completely intact and the windows below were extensively damaged.
As much glass as possible was painstakingly salvaged from the wreckage. It was passed to conservators in the hope that it could be repaired as part of the restoration plan for this important building. Unfortunately, the damage to the Exchange Hall was too extensive and the building was dismantled in 1998. Today, Foster and Partners' distinctive tower, developed by Swiss Re and affectionately known as 'the gherkin', occupies the site.
Over the past 10 years, glass conservators Goddard & Gibbs have worked to restore the stained glass to its former glory. Identifiable pieces of glass were meticulously sorted into the different windows, using photographs taken before and after the explosion.
Missing pieces were skilfully remade and fitted into accurate reproductions of the original leading, using these photographs and other examples of Forsyth's work as reference.
The restoration and display of the Baltic Exchange glass has been generously supported by Swiss Re.
The impressive half-dome, over three metres in height, is a fusion of classical and religious symbolism, which celebrates the heroism and triumph of war.
In the dome is the winged figure of Victory who steps from a boat through the central archway of a Roman temple. Roman centurions and female figures welcome Victory, and the dove of peace can be seen flying above her head.
Displayed within the architecture are the shields and badges of the colonies and dependencies of the British Empire, with the Royal Coat of Arms at the centre. The names of the major battles of the First World War are listed on the two outer panels.
The Baltic Exchange
The Baltic Exchange can be traced back over 250 years to a coffee house that stood at 61 Threadneedle Street, London. The Virginia and Maryland coffee house, renamed the Virginia and Baltick in 1744, was a regular meeting place for merchants and naval officers. They discussed and planned trade with the North American colonies and, later, when European wars made the Atlantic a dangerous place, the Baltic States of Northern Europe.
Britain's expanding Empire put London at the centre of a global trade network and the home of a fast growing shipping industry.
Over the next century, the crowded Virginia and Baltick coffee house expanded and relocated several times. In 1823, strict rules, regulations and membership were introduced and a more formal organization called 'the Baltic Club' was established.
The Baltic Club merged with the London Shipping Company in 1900 forming the Baltic and Mercantile Shipping Exchange. Three years later the company moved to grand purpose-built premises at St Mary Axe in the City of London. There, over the following 90 years, it became the world's main international shipping exchange.
Today, the Baltic Exchange occupies the building adjacent to the 1903 site, where it provides networking facilities, legal advice and independent market information for the shipping industry.