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 tec...
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.
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Recent News: Stained Glass
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Restoration to Begin on Calvary's Rose Window; Stained Glass Expert to Speak ...TAPinto.net, March 3rd
Femenella started working with stained glass in 1968. He now divides his time between supervising major restoration projects, consulting, lecturing, and writing for numerous national magazines. His projects have included works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, ...Read more
Claustrophobic couple sleep in the altar under a stained glass windowTelegraph.co.uk, March 3rd
There were mushrooms.” St John's had already been decommissioned, used as a community centre and then occupied by squatters. “Everything had been stripped out, including the doorknobs,” says Carmen. “But we found stained-glass windows which had ...Read more
chartres by andré teoman questions what stained-glass can meanDesignboom, February 26th
'chartres' is a stained-glass chandelier by andré teoman studios. the chandelier attempts to show a traditional technique in a contemporary fashion. to do so, teoman started to break the typical association between religion and stained glass. while...Read more
Stained-glass window dedicated to Alexandria murder victim Ruthanne LodatoWJLA, February 24th
The stained glass window features a design Lodato's family says is a wonderful way to remember her. "One of Ruthanne's cousins posted a musical note floating on the clouds on a Facebook page after the tragedy, and it became a symbol during our time of ...Read more
Stained Glass Backboards Are Completely Unnecessary and BeautifulBleacher Report, February 23rd
Yep, stained glass backboards are now a reality thanks to the good people at Literally Balling. Headed up by designer Victor Solomon, the boards "are an aesthetic convergence of historical opulence and our modern day kings of court." Which is a fancy...Read more
First Presbyterian Church restores historic stained glass windowsDaily Tribune News, February 22nd
Continuing to represent the “light of Christ,” several stained glass windows at First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville have served as a symbol of Christianity for more than a century. To help the American Opalescent-style panels reach another 100...Read more
Stained Glass StoryKWQC-TV6, February 20th
DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) — It's a reverent way for Christians to experience the meaning of the Lenten Season. Windows which tell the Bible Story. Sources of inspiration. Stained glass windows. There are several at Saint Mark Evangelical Lutheran ...Read more
Stained glass art turns heads at the pubThe Olympian, February 18th
The rebirth and restoration of the mural began in 2003 when the brewery stopped making beer and the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, which owns and maintains the Schmidt House, donated the stained glass artwork to Bill Hillman, longtime owner of ...Read more