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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Freeman unveils three stained glass windows as part of new campaign
Joplin Globe, December 18th

John decided to bring that inspiration back with him to Freeman Hospital West by starting a project called the Commemorative Window Campaign. Three stained glass windows were unveiled Thursday at the Heart Institute and will be the first installed at...Read more

WOW House: $1M 'Historic Westover' Has Stained Glass Windows
Patch.com, December 18th

Carved stairways, intricately mantled fireplaces, stained glass windows and scalloped siding are just a few of the hallmark details that prevail in this carefully maintained home. Elegant hardwood flooring, high ceilings and a renovated kitchen beckon...Read more

Church Of England's First Woman Bishop, Libby Lane, Shatters Stained-Glass ...
Bustle, December 17th

On Wednesday, the Church of England appointed Rev. Libby Lane as the Bishop of Stockport, just one month after the church officially approved its new legislation allowing ordained women to serve as bishops. It marks a historic, stained-glass shattering ...Read more

Pictured: Secret mahogany dining room with stained glass windows inside city ...
Mirror.co.uk, December 17th

Chances are you've never seen the hidden mahogany room which lies just metres from the main restaurant area of the Burger King restaurant on St John Street in Cardiff city centre. The Mahogany Room, which is not open to the public, was formerly known ...Read more

Family embarks on new quest to recover stained-glass windows
Bend Bulletin, December 15th

Even in the middle of a bright February day in 2012, it was pitch-black inside the small building. But Tim Kearns saw immediately that 75 handmade crates had been removed, crates stacked vertically to protect their fragile cargo: 64 stained-glass...Read more

Chicopee City Hall auditorium in disrepair, historic stained glass windows ...
MassLive.com, December 11th

120414 -Chicopee - The large stone framed medallion stained glass window that is the main architectual feature of the Chicopee City Hall is falling apart and is the subject of immediate concern for repair. Here City Messenger Jean Croteau shows off...Read more

Final touch: Historic stained-glass returns to courthouse rotunda
Montana Standard, December 10th

As the gold-hued glow from the stained glass danced on their faces, a crew installed the last few panels of the dome at the Butte courthouse Wednesday. "It's pretty exciting -- it really is. It's pretty darn exciting," said Pat Holland, county building...Read more

Stained glass makes colorful holiday cookie
Washington Post, December 2nd

Making holiday cookies may be a tradition in your house. But if you're not one of the bakers, you're missing out. Bakers have to sample their creations, so you are almost guaranteed to get a treat that's still warm from the oven. You're also more...Read more