Raymond Pitcairn originally began collecting medieval art to serve as inspiration for the artists and craftsmen engaged in building Bryn Athyn Cathedral. He later designed Glencairn, his Romanesque-style home, to house this collection. Medieval art comprises the largest and most significant collection in Glencairn, consisting of some 600 objects—mostly French sculpture and stained glass from the years 1100-1300. There are also important works in other media such as ivories, enamels, manuscripts, tapestries and frescos. Glencairn has two medieval galleries; in addition, many works of medieval art are installed in the magnificent Great Hall.
One of the most famous works of art in Glencairn depicts a legend surrounding the Flight into Egypt. This story from the Gospel of Matthew (2:13-15) describes how Joseph was commanded to escape the massacre ordered by King Herod. The Pitcairn Flight into Egypt is the best preserved surviving panel from one of the principal stained-glass windows of the first Gothic structure: Abbot Suger’s reconstruction of the choir of the Abbey Church at Saint-Denis between 1140 and 1144.
In 1982 The Met Cloisters, the branch of the Museum in northern Manhattan devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, mounted an exhibition of Raymond Pitcairn’s medieval collection: Radiance and Reflection: Medieval Art from the Raymond Pitcairn Collection. The entire exhibition catalog is available online. According to Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Romanesque and Gothic art that was assembled by Raymond Pitcairn in the early part of this century represents the world’s finest and most extensive collection of medieval sculpture and stained glass still in private hands” (p. 4).