This window depicts an episode from the life of Saint Benedict (ca. 480–547). Satan, in the form of black birds, flutters around the saint. The young saint overcame his sexual desires (represented by the woman seen at the right) by throwing himself into a thorn bush. Albrecht Dürer shows Benedict lying in a thicket, deep in prayer.
In 1496, Dürer made drawings for twelve stained glass panels narrating the life of Saint Benedict. Appropriately, they were made for the Benedictine abbey of Saint Aegidius in Nuremberg. Each design prominently displays the arms of the families who paid for the panels, which were probably made to celebrate a marriage. In the Gardner Museum’s stained glass panel, the arms are those of the Waldstromer family.
Dürer was widely celebrated for his prints and paintings, but he also designed other objects, including sculpture, metalwork, and stained glass. His brilliance as a graphic artist shows itself in the stained glass produced from his patterns. Strong and expressive figures are set into a lively landscape of variously shaped trees and rocky forms. Dürer produced clear drawings, created with parallel or crossed lines, for the inspection of patrons, and for glass painters to trace and copy onto glass. The drawing for this stained glass panel is in Darmstadt.
This stained glass panel, along with six windows from Milan Cathedral, was among the very first art objects acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Source: Alan Chong, "The Self-Mortification of Saint Benedict," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 133.