c Stained Glass Directory
By the 10th century, depictions of Christ and biblical scenes were found in French and German churches and decorative designs found
in England. There is a mystery to glass: It is a form of matter with gas, liquid and solid state properties. Glass is most like a
super-cooled liquid. It captures light and glows from within. It is a jewel like substance made from the most ordinary materials:
sand transformed by fire. Before recorded history, man learned to make glass and color it by adding metallic salts and oxides. These
minerals within the glass capture specific portions from the spectrum of white light allowing the human eye to see various colors.
Gold produces stunning cranberry, cobalt makes blues; silver creates yellows and golds and copper makes greens and brick red.
The origins of the first stained glass windows are lost in history. The technique probably came from jewelry making, cloisonné and mosaics. Stained glass windows as we know them, seemed to arise when substantial church building began.
Techniques of stained glass window construction were described by the monk Theophilus who wrote a how to for craftsmen about 1100 AD. It describes methods little changed over 900 years: "if you want to assemble simple windows, first mark out the dimensions of their length and breadth on a wooden board, then draw scroll work or anything else that pleases you, and select colors that are to be put in. Cut the glass and fit the pieces together with the grozing iron. Enclose them with lead cames..... and solder on both sides. Surround it with a wooden frame strengthened with mails and set it up in the place where you wish."
The Gothic age produced the great cathedrals of Europe and brought a full flowering of stained glass windows. Churches became taller and lighter, walls thinned and stained glass was used to fill the increasingly larger openings in them. Stained glass became the sun filled world outside. Abbot Suger of the Abbey of St. Denis rebuilt his church in what is one of the first examples of the Gothic style. He brought in craftsmen to make the glass and kept a journal of what was done. He truly believed that the presence of beautiful objects would lift mens’ souls closer to God.
Stained glass windows are often viewed as translucent pictures. Gothic stained glass windows are a complex mosaic of bits of colored
glass joined with lead into an intricate pattern illustrating biblical stories and saints lives. Viewed from the ground, they appear
not as a picture but as a network of black lines and colored light. Medieval man experienced a window more than he read it. It made
the church that special, sacred dwelling place of an all powerful God.
We see medieval craftsmen were more interested in illustrating and idea than creating natural or realistic images. Rich, jewel colors
played off milky, dull neutrals. Paint work was often crude and unsophisticated: a dark brown enamel, called grisaille, was matted
to the glass surface to delineate features, not to control the transmission of light.In the 15th century, the apex of high Gothic,
the way stained glass was viewed changed. It became more a picture and less an atmosphere. Paler colors admitted more light and figures
were larger, often filling the entire window. Paint work became more sophisticated, more like easel painting. The rediscovery of silver
stain allowed the artist to realistically depict yellow hair and golden garments.
Stained glass artists became glass painters as the
form became closer and closer to panel painting. Lead lines that were once accepted as a necessary and decorative element became structural
evils to be camouflaged by the design. The Renaissance brought the art of stained glass into a 300 year period where windows were
white glass heavily painted. They lost all their previous glory and it seemed the original symbolism and innate beauty of stained
glass was forgotten. In this period, stained glass became a fashionable addition to residences , public buildings and churches. Heraldic
glass showing detailed shields and coats of arms on simple, transparent backgrounds was common. Much of what stained glass was became
forgotten. The 18th century saw the removal of many medieval stained glass windows. They were destroyed as hopelessly old fashioned
and replaced by painted glass.
- History of Stained Glass
Stained Glass Directory