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A brief history of stained glass Print E-mail

Ecclesiastical and Heritage WorldThe 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.

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 while copper makes greens and brick red.

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 men’s’ 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.

Ecclesiastical and Heritage WorldStained 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.

England in the mid 1800’s saw a revival of interest in Gothic architecture. Several amateur art historians and scientists rediscovered the medieval glass techniques. Pieces of glass were tested and their color secrets unlocked.

Glass studios in England made their versions of medieval windows for Gothic Revival buildings. The Bolton Brothers, English immigrants, established on of the first stained glass studios in America. These Gothic style windows enhanced churches and simple ornamental windows and painted figural windows were the norm until the development of a distinctive American style.

John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany were two American painters who began experimenting with glass. Contemporaries, but working independently, they were trying to develop glass that possessed a wide range of visual effects without painting.

They soon became competitors. LaFarge developed and copyrighted opalescent glass in 1879. Tiffany popularized it and his name became synonymous with opalescent glass and the American glass movement. LaFarge and Tiffany used intricate cuts and richly colored glasses within in detailed, flowing designs. Plating, or layering glass layers, achieved depth and texture. Both made windows for private homes as well as churches.

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The process of using thin strips of copper as a substitute for lead came allowed for intricate sections within windows. Tiffany adapted the technique to construct lampshades and capitalized on the new innovation of electric lighting. Tiffany’s customers were wealthy, turn of the century families including the Vanderbilts’ and Astors. The Tiffany style prompted many imitators and opalescent windows and shades remained popular through the turn of the century.

Tastes changed after WWI. A revival of archeological accuracy in architecture called for new gothic glass windows for the NeoGothic churches. LaFarge had died in 1910, interest in opalescent glass waned and Tiffany remained its last defendant until his death in 1933 and the subsequent bankruptcy of his studios. New craftsmen such as William Willet, Rambusch, Charles Connick and Nicolai D’Ascenzo, made window for churches across America.

Except for church windows, stained glass remained in decline until the post WWII era. The abstract and expressionist movement in painting influenced a new group of artists to explore artistic expression in the medium of glass.

Contemporary church window may in some ways be closer to those of the early Gothic period. Not easy to identify scenes, they again create a pure atmosphere of light and color, inspiring a contemplative attitude through the transformation of the ordinary into the mystical.

Stained glass, or more appropriate art glass, is all around us today. An explosion of interest in the last 30 years has give rise to many new and imaginative forms of this art. The rise of the individual artist, new technologies and the growing interest in stained glass as a hobby craft have all lead to what is being called A a new golden age in glass.

New homes are frequently embellished with spectacular beveled glass entryways, stained glass bathroom windows and Tiffany style lampshades. Decorative panels are purchased just to hang in a sunny window. Marvelous hot formed glass pieces adorn tables, walls, shelves and fill windows. New artists are combining, creating and developing unique new forms and styles every day.

Click HERE to view a selection of glass experts.

Stained Glass | A Brief History. Text courtesy of The Art Glass Association. Picture courtesy of SGAA Slide Library

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Stained glass experts play their part in Royal Shakespeare Theatre refurbishment

Ark Stained Glass & Leaded Lights Ltd were approached to work on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre as part of their huge refurbishment project.

Part of the work was to take out a number of leaded lights and steel casements, strip and relead the windows, replacing any broken glass, and restoring the casements.

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Unique style revived - and the light shines forth

During a visit to the parish church of St Anne in Ancroft, Northumberland in 2012 by Borderdale Stained Glass, to restore one of the 19th-century windows, a thought arose to replace the obscure flat glazing with windows more interesting and sympathetic to the building and its setting.

Following consultation with the church members and wardens, the PCC and the Newcastle Diocesan Advisory Committee, it was decided that a series of nine new windows should be designed in plain glass.

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Southend church gets new stained glass windows to complement new interior

This set of four 2-light windows, designed by Essex-based Aura Visions, was set into the East elevation of Avenue Baptist Church, Southend on Sea, once the organ and choir pews had been removed.

The themes for the windows are ‘Creation & Trinity’, ‘Easter & Pentecost’, Baptism & Communion’ and ‘Mission, Justice & Peace’. Each window is colour coded to reflect its theme and the figurative elements were made large enough to be clear from ground level.

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Pipe organ restoration reveals original glazier

J Goodwin Stained Glass recently had the privilege of playing a small role in the restoration of the historically significant pipe organ of All Saints Church in Roos, Yorkshire.

York-based Joe Goodwin’s contribution involved fully restoring the organ chamber’s two early Victorian diamond quarry leaded light windows. One of the windows was covered in a thick layer of oil-based paint which had been applied decades ago to mask the organ workings from view.

After carefully removing this green paint from the glass during restoration, the original glazier’s name was revealed in graffiti, scribed into one of the glass quarry panes from 1841.

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Conservation and resetting of painted glass at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham

Before and after extensive conservation and resetting of painted glass at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham carried out by Hertfordshire based Chapel Studio Stained Glass Ltd.

Strawberry Hill is the UK’s finest example of Gothic Revival architecture. The Grade I listed building was transformed in the 18th Century by the son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Horace Walpole, who was an avid collector of many things, including stained glass that he used to adorn his mansion.

This is a major project funded by many groups including the Heritage Lottery Fund and Chapel Studio is extremely proud to have been appointed to carry out the conservation work.

For more examples of the company's work visit www.chapelstudio.co.uk

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Restoration of St George window

This St George window was beautifully restored by West Midlands based Master Glass Artists Ltd - a full service stained glass studio covering all aspects of stained glass and leaded light manufacture and restoration.

The father and son team of David and Steven Cowan have been involved in numerous commissions for traditional and contemporary ecclesiastical stained glass in the UK and further afield, and have a particularly extensive knowledge and experience of the restoration of traditional Victorian windows.

For more on the company see their brief profile here or visit their website at www.masterglassartists.com

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Restoration of 1890's door centre panel

Following a break in, this 1890's door centre panel was fully rebuilt by Morecambe based Shore Edge Glass. The work involved restoring and repainting all the corner panels.

The company specialise in both contemporary and traditional leaded glass and stained glass, using time honoured, hand-crafted, traditional methods of repair, restoration and manufacture for both ecclesiastical contracts and private clients.

For further information visit www.shoreedgeglass.co.uk

 

 

Conservation work at St John the Baptist Church

Recclesia Ltd successfully completed a highly complex and much celebrated scheme of conservation work to both the masonry and the medieval stained Chancel at the Grade 1 listed St John the Baptist Church at Kinlet - one of Shropshire's most outstanding church buildings. The principal area of work was carried out to the East window which dates from the 13th century.

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New home found for scouts' stained glass window

When the local scout hut in Middleton, Greater Manchester was being demolished, a new home for the scout window of 1924 was required. St Gabriel's, the local church, was chosen to be that home.

Cheshire Stained Glass removed the window from the hut and stored it until a final decision about it's future had been made.

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Stationers Hall, by Auravisions

A set of stunning windows made by Mayer & Co. of London and Munich in the 1860's had suffered some damage, but mostly a thick coating of soot from a fire in a nearby wooden screen.

The windows depict the relevant greats of the age such as Tyndale and William Shakespeare; the main window depicting Caxton presenting his new printing press to the King.

Work carried out by Susan McCarthy, Auravisions

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The Beauty of Glass - Work by Ann Sotheran FMGP

Having designed and made stained glass for many different situations including private houses, churches, public houses, exhibitions and galleries, York based Ann Sotheran derives the most pleasure from working in close consultation with the client or donor in the initial stages of the design.

She explains: I like to explore, with them, their reasons for commissioning a piece of work in order that I can develop images which will most closely reflect their feelings and aspirations and evoke a positive response to the finished piece.

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Repair and Restoration by Deko Studio

Stained glass windows and doors are a beautiful feature in any building but can deteriorate with age and get broken or damaged. At Deko Studio they love restoring old stained glass to its former glory and have worked on everything from panels in Victorian front doors, through neo-Gothic towers, to entire churches.

Many simple repairs can be carried out on site while more extensive work will require removal of the window. Although working mainly in the London area, they are able to undertake larger jobs further afield.

Every stained glass work by Deko Studio is made to a unique, bespoke design, created to enhance its specific architectural setting. All work is fully insured.

Click here for more from this company

 
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