Most windows are created to allow people on the inside of a building get a view of what’s going on outside. This, however, isn’t true for stained glass windows. These set of windows are usually built for aesthetics purpose.
A window made from stained glass usually beautifies the building and controls the light. It doesn’t necessarily allow the people on the inside to see what’s going on outside. Additionally, windows made from stained glass windows usually depict a story.
Many people are of the belief that these windows were first designed and created by the Romans and/or the Egyptians. Both cultures were very good at making colored glass objects.
The Medieval period saw the rise of stained glass windows. They flourished during this period and got to their peak in Gothic times. During the Gothic period, the windows were used in many different buildings, including cathedrals.
The popularity and usage extended into the Renaissance period. However, it hit a decline at the end of this period. In today’s world, windows made from stained glass windows are growing in popularity again.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
No one can really pinpoint the exact period when stained glass windows came into existence. However, it is believed that the Egyptians were probably the pioneers as they were the first to discover glass.
In fact, the oldest man-made glasses in history are dated back to 2700BC and they are Egyptian colored glass beads. The Roman elites in the first century AD were the first to use windows made from stained glass for their homes.
The Middle East still has some of these early glass windows in different mosques and palaces. Early stained glass windows can also be found in St. Paul’s Monastery, Jarrow, England. Some of them are dated as far back as 685 AD. Lorsh Abbey, Germany, houses the earliest window with a picture. The picture depicts the head of Christ and it’s dated back to the 10th century.
THE CREATION OF STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
The making of these windows involves mixed potash, sand, different metallic oxide powders, and high degree of heat. The sand and potash are mixed together and heated to about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. The metallic oxide powders are then added in order to create windows with different colors. While the glass is still pliable, the artisan would flatten it into sheets.
Usually, the artist would have a cartoon or blueprint of the window’s design on a large board. After the glass has been flattened, it would be placed on this blueprint board and cut into the needed sizes. Grozing is then used to finish the pieces.
Other times, artists would use a special paint to create the details on a stained glass window piece. This paint was usually made from iron filings and ground glass that were soaked in wine or urine. With this mixture, the designs would be defined in a better way and light rays would be blocked out.
H-shaped lead strips, known as cames, were used to hold the finished pieces. These strips were then soldered together in order to create panels. The panels are now placed in an iron frame, which is called an armature. Once this has been done, the stained glass windows are now finished and ready for use.
The stained glass pieces we see today only became popular in the 10th century. And this was due to the construction of Gothic cathedrals. Augsburg Cathedral, Germany is home to the oldest, completed set of windows and they were made in the late 11th century.
During this period, the medieval church was mostly the funder and user of these windows. Saint Denis’ Abbot Suger was a lover of stained glass art and his home was just outside Paris. He considered light to be a representation of God himself. So, he used the funds of the abbey to create stained glass windows that were more beautiful and larger.
During the Medieval period, stained glass art was mostly based on biblical stories. Besides beautifying the churches, they also served as some kind of pictorial stories for those who couldn’t read.
In fact, many people believe that the pictures had more impact on people than the sermons. While some windows had pictures on them, others had obscure symbolic icons. The scholars in today’s world study these icons in order to learn about how people lived their lives during that time.
Although the windows created during this period were still based on biblical settings, they had a more renaissance touch. The painted scenes had more imagery, maybe even more than the ones created during the Gothic era.
However, the stained glass windows created during this period also featured non-biblical scenes. Wealthy homes, churches, and town halls are some of the buildings that featured these windows. The windows on these building had smaller panels and most of the art was painted.
These Renaissance pieces depicted human emotions and feelings and they were very popular as a result of the humanist movement going on at that time. In order to vividly portray the realism and feeling in each character, artists had to use enamel paint for the windows.
However, this wasn’t effective on stained glass pieces as the leading, an important part of the window, was ignored and the windows were usually too far away for the art to be seen.
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS DECLINE
Between the Renaissance period and the middle of the 19th century, these windows experienced a decline. The major declination factor was the changes in the religious practices at the time.
The early church were huge fans of art so they utilized it quite well. However, new believers, known as the Protestants, sprung up during this period and they weren’t in support of decorations or fancy art.
By 1640, the decline was so much that stained glasses were rare and the only ones that could be seen were small panels in homes and city halls.
Additionally, the English Parliament ordered that churches got rid of all images of the Trinity and the Virgin Mary. This led to the breaking of many stained glass windows by fanatic vandals. They were, however, able to stop the destruction as many realized that the windows were too expensive to replace.
The mid-19th century brought the Gothic style windows back to life. The windows were used all over the United States and Europe. Many artists dedicated their time and skills to reviving the lost art and technique of medieval windows.
During the Art Nouveau period, Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge created drapery, rigid, confetti, and opalescent glass. Some fine examples of modern day glass stained windows include the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Marc Chagall.
However, the depression experienced in the 1930s and 1940s, and the war of WWII cut the revival short.
Over the last thirty years, more interest has been shown in stained glass windows and the art is also being revived. There are even college and university programs that are focused on teaching students how to make stained glass. We’re also now seeing a resurgence in the USA with stain glass window designs from companies like Associated Crafts.
Creating stained glass is now becoming a very popular hobby and many individual artists have prospered through it.