Skip to content

Williams, Jane Welch

    Full Name: Williams, Jane Welch

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1931

    Date Died: 1998

    Place Born: Los Angeles, CA, USA

    Place Died: Tucson, Pima, AZ, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): art theory, Marxism, and Medieval (European)


    Medievalist of Marxist revisionist methodology. Welch attended Bennington College in Vermont, but left school before graduating in order to marry and raise a family. As the wife of a successful businessman, she developed the recreational passions of deep-sea fishing and wine connoisseurship. After her family was raised, she returned to college in her forties, graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1973. At UCLA, she studied under the methodologically-Marxist social art historian O. K. Werckmeister, who suggested her master’s thesis topic, a study of the windows representing the trades at Chartres cathedral. She received her A. M. in 1978, continuing on for her Ph.D. under Werckmeister. After working as a teaching assistant, 1977-1979, at UCLA, she secured a Dickson Travel Fellowship in 1980 to research in France and Austria. She returned as a visiting Assistant professor at the University of Chicago for the 1984-1985 academic year. Williams completed her dissertation under Werckmeister at UCLA, on the trade windows at Chartres, in 1987. After teaching a year at the University of Illinois, Chicago, 1987-1988, she was appointed assistant faculty at the University of Arizona, Tucson in 1989. In 1993 she was diagnosed with brain cancer and died the same year. In 1999, the 34th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan was dedicated to her, “Abbey and Cathedral Towns: Papers in Honor and in Memory of Jane Welch Williams.” Williams’ work focused on the forty-two thirteenth-century stained-glass windows depicting tradesmen at work. William’s argued that the cathedral, contrary to modern assumption, was not created by a mutual harmonious relationship of bishop and burghers, but rather developed under anti-clericalism and urban conflict (Crossley). She determined that the windows served as propaganda in a long-running, (and frequently violent) struggle for power between the cathedral clergy, the counts of Chartres and tradespeople who were more and more encouraged to give money. She analyzed the records of three trades, the baking, tavern, and money changing concerns represented in the windows. Using both medieval texts and modern studies of medieval economic and religious practices, she outlined how the obligatory payments to the church and clergy–often presented during masses–by the trades, followed into the larger struggle between secular and religious goals within the cathedral building.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Windows of the Trades at Chartres Cathedral. Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 1987; Bread, Wine & Money: the Windows of the Trades at Chartres Cathedral. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993; and Dowell, Susan. Bread, Wine & Women: the Ordination Debate in the Church of England. London: Virago Press, 1994.


    Crossley, Paul. “Introduction: Frankl’s Text: Its Achievement and Significance.” Frankl, Paul and Crossley, Paul. Gothic Architecture. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, p. 26; [obituaries:] Drell, Adrienne. “Jane Welch Williams, Medieval Art Historian.” Chicago Sun-Times May 13, 1998, p. 82.


    "Williams, Jane Welch." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: