Stained glass got its reputation for subliminal, breath-taking beauty first in medieval Europe, where it was incorporated into stunning Gothic cathedrals with their flying buttresses, rose windows, and sky-high ceilings. These graceful works of architecture wouldn’t be the same with out their rows and rows of stained glass windows, whose intricate designs and images seemed to glow in the sunlight, filling interior spaces with jewel-like color.
The process of adding ground-up metals to molten glass to give it color dates from ancient Roman times, when stained-glass windows first appeared. The technique was perfected around 1150, when pieces of colored glass were assembled into patterns and then fitted between soldered strips of lead. At first these windows were mostly geometric in design, but during the Renaissance, artists would actually paint on the colored glass to create enormous glass paintings, whose religious imagery was illuminated by natural light.
For centuries, the Catholic Church was the only organization in Europe wealthy enough to afford such extravagance. During the Victorian Era, secular stained glass did appear as coats of arms or diamond-shaped Dutch windows, but this was rare...
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that stained glass made its way into laypeople’s homes. In 1889, architect E.S. Prior developed a new kind of glass called slag glass, which had irregular texture and color. This kind of glass was favored by those in the Arts and Crafts movement, who employed stained glass in abstract, geometric patterns to produce slag glass lamps, among other objects. From this innovation, Christopher Whall invented a new style of stained glass that focused on the lines made by the lead and used very little paint.
Some of Whall’s students found their way to the Glass House studios, run by Mary Lowndes and A.J. Drury. Whall also influenced Sarah Purser who founded the Tower of Glass studio in Dublin, run by Whall’s colleague A.E. Childs—the studio led to a revival of stained glass in Ireland. Over the decades, Tower of Glass produced work by influential designers like Michael Healy, Wilhelmina Geddes, and Evie Hone.
Meanwhile, around the turn of the century, American artists John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany set out to put a modern-day spin on medieval ideas with their stained glass windows, lamps, and works of art glass. LaFarge, like Tiffany, began his career as a painter and brought a painterly sensibility to unpainted glass. Sometimes he would layer pieces of differently colored glass to achieve new hues, and in 1879 he even developed and copyrighted a type of opalescent glass. These two rivals made both church and home windows.
The work of these artists became more intricate as a new process allowed them to assemble their stained glass with copper instead of lead. Tiffany jumped on new electric lamp technology, making richly detailed and colorful lamp shades of stained glass for industrialist elites like the Vanderbilts and Astors. His work was widely copied, with cheap imitators offering less elaborate lamps to the lower classes.
After Tiffany’s and LaFarge’s experiments, stained glass became a more common medium for decorative artists, who made stained glass in patterns and images that reflected the movement du jour—Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, De Stijl, and Bauhaus. Frank Lloyd Wright designed stained-glass windows in geometric patterns intended to complement the serene lines and patterns of his rooms and their furniture. Piet Mondrian made stained-glass windows that echoed his famous black-on-white grid paintings with their colored squares. Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse are just a few of the other artists who executed pieces in stained glass.
During World War II, much of the medieval and Gothic style glass in Europe, usually featuring narrative religious scenes, was destroyed. After the war—particularly in Germany—it was replaced with stained glass in the abstract geometric patterns of the day. In fact, Germany is credited with completely breaking the art of stained glass from its pictorial past, starting with ’20s artists like Johann Thorn Prikker, and continuing after the war with Georg Meistermann, whose symbolic work had a sense of movement, and Ludwig Schaffrath, who created tremendous walls of light.
In France, artist Jean Crotti is credited with developing a technique in the 1930s known as gemmail, in which no lead or copper is used between the pieces of colored glass. Instead, the different pieces of glass are fused together, creating a 3D illusion. Many great paintings have been reproduced in glass using this method.
Stained glass thrived again as an art medium in the 1970s as artists, particularly on the West Coast, experimented with the design, imagery, and illusions that could be produced with glass. Their experiments often featured highly detailed imagery, optical illusions, organic shapes, or jokes on the nature of glass and windows. Jad Fair, Paul Marioni, Fred Abrams, Peter Mollica, Dan Fenton, Narcissus Quagliata, Otto B. Rigan, Kathie Stackpole Bunnell, James Hubbell, Dick Weiss, and Judy Raffael are among these modern innovators.
Interviews & Articles
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Stained glass windows on Bay City church get fixSan Antonio Express, May 20th
BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) — Faded, darkened and broken glass obscured the beautiful stained glass windows in the nave of Trinity Episcopal Church in Bay City. Over the past month, two artists have been giving the windows a facelift. Robert Lovas Sr. and...Read more
Church stained glass window smashed by vandalsThis is Gloucestershire, May 19th
It will cost around £5,000 to have the window repaired by a stained glass specialist, which the church's insurance company will pay for. The Rev Tudor Griffiths, rector at the church, said that he had been left stunned by the vandalism. He said a...Read more
Fringe Review: Stained Glass WindowsOrlando Weekly (blog), May 19th
stained In the first half of Stained Glass Windows, by playwright Steve Sherman, college student David (Jordan Woods-Robinson) reveals to his sister Claire (Hana Kalinski) that he is gay. At first, David's older sibling is reluctant to accept the news...Read more
Pentecost In Art: Paintings, Stained Glass Windows, Frescoes And More ...Huffington Post, May 19th
Pentecost In Art: Paintings, Stained Glass Windows, Frescoes And More (PHOTOS). The Huffington Post | By Jahnabi Barooah Posted: 05/19/2013 1:55 pm EDT. reddit stumble · Share on Google+. Get Religion Alerts: Sign Up. Follow: Christianity , Video...Read more
Stained Glass Theatre holding Day of Prayer, auditionsSpringfield News-Leader, May 18th
Stained Glass Theatre in Ozark will open at 6:30 a.m. June 3 for a day of prayer. The public is welcome to pray with the theater staff anytime during the day. Individuals also are welcome to pray on their own. The day will close with an hour of prayer...Read more
Character Takes Courage stained glassAnchorage Daily News, May 16th
A Begich snow leopard, right, joins a pantheon of stained glass pieces after it is unveiled Thursday May 16, 2013 at Begich Middle School. The piece honors the 2012-13 school theme Character Takes Courage. Stained glass artist and school administrative...Read more
Stained Glass Labs Launches As A Wearable Computing Startup IncubatorTechCrunch, May 15th
Wearable computing looks more and more like the inevitable future, so today Stained Glass Labs launches to help entrepreneurs develop apps and businesses around Google Glass and similar devices. The incubator and accelerator will offer mentorship and...Read more
Stained Glass Water Tower By Tom Fruin Is Our Photo Of The DayHuffington Post, May 14th
While the stained glass ceiling at Galeries Lafayette usually gets all the attention, the one at Printemps is no slouch. As incredible as this may seem, the glass here was dismantled in the 1930s to protect it from bombing and then re-assembled years...Read more