LCB Metals & Glass
||The origins of
the first stained glass windows are lost in history, but the technique
probably came from jewelry making, cloisonné and mosaics. Stained glass
windows as we know them seemed to arise when substantial church building
became widespread. 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's a form of matter with gas, liquid and solid
state properties. It captures light and glows from within. It is a jewel like substance
made from 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 colors from the oxides of metals.
Cobalt makes blues; silver creates yellows and gold and 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 that have
undergone little change over 900 years:
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 nails 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 mens 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 a special, sacred
dwelling place of an all powerful God. Medieval craftsmen were more interested in
illustrating an idea than creating natural or realistic images. Rich, jewel colors played
off milky, dull neutrals. Paint work was often crude and unsophisticated,
demonstrated by a dark brown
enamel, called grisaille, which 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 the visions of an easel painter. The rediscovery of silver
stain allowed the artist to realistically depict yellow hair and golden garments. Stained
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 passé and 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 1800s saw a revival of interest in Gothic architecture, and 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 one 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 detailed, flowing designs. Plating, or
layering glass layers, achieved depth and texture. Both made windows for private homes as
well as churches.
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. Tiffanys
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 it's 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 DAscenzo, made windows 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 windows may in some way 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 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. Many 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. If
glass appeals to you, seek out these artists and enjoy the latest in the
colorful uses and applications of glass.