Have you ever visited the 6th floor of the La Trobe Reading Room and gazed out over the Dome? Did you notice the Bard of Avon peering over your shoulder?
The Shakespeare Window is one of the earliest stained-glass windows made in Melbourne. Bequeathed to the Library in 1960 by Miss Lucy Coppin, it was commissioned by her father, George Coppin (1819-1906) for the facade of the new Apollo Music Hall in Bourke Street, which opened in July 1862.
The three metre portrait displays the text All the world’s a stage, a quotation from As You Like It, and the beginning of the famous speech describing the seven ages of man.
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.”
The window is based on a sculpture by London-based French sculptor Louis François Roubiliac (1702-1762), commissioned by David Garrick, and now held at the British Library. It was originally flanked by two smaller windows, which depicted the Shakespearian characters Hamlet, Lady Macbeth and Beatrice.
It was one of the very first stained-glass windows produced by the partnership of James Ferguson and James Urie. Beginning in the 1850s as plumbers in North Melbourne, by the 1860s the pair had expanded into painting and decorating. At their peak they kept offices on Collins Street, and in 1875 they won two prizes for their stained glass at the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne. Local production of stained glass was a risky business however, and competition from much larger British and German studios and the crash of the 90s finally saw Ferguson and Urie close in 1899.The window has had a chequered career. It was removed to George Coppin’s house in Richmond in early 1870, and was the subject of a dispute with the owner of the theatre at that time, which was resolved by a fire that destroyed the theatre building in 1871. The window was then moved to Coppin’s seaside home in Sorrento, before being given to his friend Bland Holt, who had it installed in his house in Cotham Road, Kew. Lucy Coppin lived with the Holts and was their beneficiary.
In its many moves the window was damaged and whole pieces of glass were destroyed. It was extensively restored in 2005 by stained-glass artist Geoffrey Wallace, and installed in the La Trobe Reading Room. And so from the sixth floor of our grand Dome, this brightly coloured Bard of Avon watches over Victoria’s readers, writers, thinkers and dreamers.
“Come, and take choice of all my library, And so beguile thy sorrow.”
Titus Andronicus, Act IV, scene I
Read more about the Shakespeare Window’s history in this La Trobe Journal article by Mimi Colligan.