The use of stained glass in architecture has ancient origins dating back to the first century A.D. when wealthy Romans used it in their villas and palaces in Pompeii and Heraculaneum. Stained glass was considered more of a domestic luxury than an artistic medium, until 313 A.D., when Constantine permitted Christians to worship openly and churches were built based on Byzantine models. In Early Christian churches of the 4th and 5th centuries there are many remaining windows which are filled with ornate patterns of thinly-sliced alabaster set into wooden frames, giving a stained-glass like effect. The early windows were basically transparent mosaics until the tenth century when figures were painted directly upon the glass with transparent pigments. Stained glass became a major pictorial form and was used to illustrate the narratives of the Bible to a largely illiterate populace.
From the 10th or 11th century, stained glass began to flourish as an art and glass factories were set up where there was a ready supply of silica, the essential product of glass manufacture. Glass was usually coloured by adding metallic oxides to the glass while in a molten state in a clay pot over a furnace. Glass coloured in this way was known as pot metal. Copper oxides were added to produce green, cobalt for blue, and gold was added to produce red glass. Much modern red glass is produced using ingredients less expensive than gold and giving a brighter red of a more vermilion shade.
As the demand for churches increased, so did the production of decorative stained glass windows. Early Romanesque style stained glass was influenced by the linear patterning, abstraction and severe frontality of figures found in Byzantine Art. The relatively small windows of the period were designed to let in as much light as possible, so images were made with predominantly red and blue glass and then surrounded by white glass. This style can be seen at Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral in England and in Strasbourg Cathedral in Austria.
Stained glass flourished in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the expansion of immense window spaces in Gothic cathedrals demanded a new approach to the medium. Colored glass was used in a variety of exquisite jewel-like tones, geometric shapes emerged and decorative borders and foliage become more formalized and intricate.
In Limoges, France a new process was used that made stained glass images far more durable when exposed to atmospheric changes. The new process, which revolutionized the art, consisted in painting with metallic pigments which could be fused into the glass, the painting being thus made as lasting as the glass itself. From 1130 and 1144, Abbot Suger was responsible for employing this permanent process of painting on glass at the Abbey of St Denis, just north of Paris.
The oldest surviving painted picture-window is one representing the Ascension in the cathedral of Le Mans, which is believed by many antiquarians to be a work of the late eleventh century. Although Le Mans was one of the first places where windows made by the new process were used, it did not become the centre of work; the city of Chartres took the lead and became the greatest of the schools of medieval glass-painting.
The "Rose Window", developed in France, is a circular window that is divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery that form a complex design which bears similarity to a multi-petalled rose. The large late 12th century window at Chartres Cathedral still exists and combines a large rondel at the centre with the radiating spokes of a wheel window, surrounded by a ring of smaller "plate tracery" lights with scalloped borders. The window depicts the Last Judgement, contains its original scheme of glazing and retains much of the original glass of 1215, despite suffering damage during World War II. Chartres Cathedral has a hundred and forty-three stained glass windows depicting 1,350 subjects. Even today the Chartres windows are the most beautiful in existence.
Toward the end of the thirteenth century a desire for more illumination surfaced with an increase in non-figurative windows and concentric patterning that incorporated more transparent glass. One of the finest examples of this shift in taste is at York Minster, a Gothic cathedral in York, England which is the largest of its kind in Northern Europe. York Minster's fifty-foot tall Five Sisters Windows are a remarkable display of grisaille glazing, which is basically monochrome painting on stained glass, using, for example, silver stain or vitreous paint. Stained glass witnessed its greatest diversity in design, style, palette and sentiment during the Gothic period.
Perhaps the most supreme example of High Gothic art and architecture is Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral in France, built from 1194-1220. The quality of the architecture, sculpture and stained glass is unsurpassed by Gothic churches comparable in size. The present church, the sixth on the site, was begun immediately after the fifth church burned in 1194. Much of the new cathedral was inspired by Abbot Suger's Abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris; the walls, piers, and flying buttresses became a skeletal framework supporting the soaring vaults and enormous windows. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of Europe's greatest monuments.
In the Renaissance period, glass work was no longer anonymous and began to be attributed to specific artists and workshops. Individual artists were sought out across regional boundaries for specific skills and were backed by wealthy patrons. Additionally, the depiction of artists and glass guilds within windows reflects stained glass' increasingly elevated status. Taste for jewel-like color, open space no longer constrained by architectural divisions and an increase in secular usage reflects new riches. Architecture was emphasized less as it took on a new organic quality, warmer colors were used while greater attention was given to textile rendering. Images depicting secular activities such as masonry and glazing were juxtaposed next to sacred imagery.
During the sixteenth century there was a rise in the production of glass panels for private use and contemplation. Beginning with the Reformation, the creation of religious imagery had severe penalties and glass makers had to seek secular commissions like moralizing roundels or heraldic panels in order to make a living. Windows were purely pictorial and became divorced from their architectural surroundings. Transparent glass gave way to heavily painted opaque glass. The more this was practiced, the more distant old stained glass techniques became. The artistry that had reached its zenith during the Gothic period became a lost art. A style of stained glass evolved that was no longer dependent upon the skilful cutting of colored glass into sections, and scenes were painted onto glass panels of square format, like tiles. At the end of this century and all through the next, the windows rapidly degenerated, the art of making them passed from the hands of the artists into the greedy grasp of tradesmen. The last windows made in which there was still some artistic merit are those in the Church of St. John at Gouda. In these, painters introduced landscapes, arcades, and corridors, aiming at absolute realism and startling perspectives, and treated their glass as they would canvas.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the use of paints and enamels became so excessive as to almost do away with pot-metal. Many of the windows were made wholly by painting and staining clear glass, and were purely articles of trade, with a very poor market which became smaller from year to year until all demand ceased.
For approximately two hundred years stained glass fell out of favor due to massive destruction, religious iconoclasm, preference for Renaissance styles, the rise in enamels usage, and a lack of knowledge of old techniques. Stained glass was not widely produced and did not again receive critical attention until its revival in the nineteenth century.
The Catholic revival in England in the early 19th century, brought a renewed interest in the mediaeval church and a revival of church building in the Gothic style, claimed by John Ruskin to be "the true Catholic style". The architectural movement was led by Augustus Welby Pugin. Many new churches were planted in large towns and many old churches were restored. This brought about a great demand for the revival of the art of stained glass window making.
Firms such as Hardman & Co. of Birmingham and Clayton and Bell of London employed artists who were never known outside their particular trade but who filled English churches with their glass. Initially most of Hardman's designs were by A.W.N. Pugin and were installed in buildings of which he was the architect.
Among the foremost designers were the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. While Burne-Jones was best known as a painter, William Morris's studios created designs for architectural and interior decorating of many sorts including paintings, furniture, tiles and textiles. As part of Morris's enterprise, he set up his own glass works, producing glass to his own and Burne-Jones designs.
Charles Eamer Kempe was a designer for Clayton and Bell, a company whose output was so considerable that it was said that most English churches had one of their windows and many had nothing else. He set up his own workshop in 1869. He designed all the windows for the chapel of Selwyn College in Cambridge and is credited with having produced over 3,000 windows.
Another important firm was Ward and Hughes which began by following the Gothic style but changed direction in the 1870s towards a style influenced by the Aesthetic Movement. The firm remained operational until the late 1920s. Yet another was William Wailes (1808-1881) whose firm produced the West window of Gloucester cathedral.
Notable American practitioners include John La Farge who invented opalescent glass and for which he received a US patent in February 24, 1880, and Louis Comfort Tiffany who received several patents for variations of the same opalescent process in November of the same year. Tiffany is believed to have invented the copper foil method as an alternative to lead and used it extensively in windows, lamps and other decorations.
John La Farge (1835 - 1910)
Born in New York City, NY, John La Farge was an American painter, stained glass window maker, decorator and writer. His interest in art was aroused during his training at Mount St. Mary's University and St. John's College (now Fordham University).
La Farge experimented with color problems, especially in the medium of stained glass, and not only succeeded in rivaling the gorgeousness of medieval windows, but added new resources by his invention of opalescent glass and his original methods of superimposing and welding his material. Among his many masterpieces are the "Battle Window" at Harvard and the cloisonn? "Peacock Window" in the Worcester Art Museum. Two of his largest windows are located in Unity Church in North Easton, Massachusetts. The earliest of these, the "Angel of Help" was completed in 1887 while the "Figure of Wisdom" dates to 1901. Both of these windows were restored by "Victor Rothman for Stained Glass Inc." of Yonkers, New York in the 1990's.
In 1904, he was one of the first seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. On his passing in 1910, John LaFarge was interred in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. During his life, he maintained a studio at 51 West 10th Street, in Greenwich Village, which today is part of the site of Eugene Lang College.
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 - 1933)
Louis Comfort Tiffany was an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts, He is best known for his work in stained glass and is the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements.
Tiffany started out as a painter but became interested in glassmaking around 1875 and then worked at several glasshouses in Brooklyn for the next few years. In 1879 he joined with Candace Wheeler, Samuel Colman and Lockwood de Forest to form Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated American Artists. A desire to concentrate on art in glass led to the breakup of the firm in 1885 and Tiffany chose to establish his own glassmaking firm later that same year. The first Tiffany Glass Company was incorporated on December 1, 1885, which in 1902 became known as the Tiffany Studios. One of the largest windows made by the Tiffany Studios is called The Holy City and is located at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, which has eleven Tiffany windows.
Tiffany used opalescent glass in a variety of colors and textures to create a unique style of stained glass. This can be contrasted with the method of painting in glass paint or enamels on colorless glass that had been the dominant method for creating stained glass for hundreds of years in Europe.
In 1893 Tiffany built a new factory called the Stourbridge Glass Company, later called Tiffany Glass Furnaces, located in Corona, Queens, New York. In 1893, his company also introduced the term Favrile in conjunction with his first production of blown glass at his new glass factory. He trademarked Favrile, which comes from the old French word for handmade, on November 13, 1894. He later used this word to apply to all of his glass, enamel and pottery. He used all his skills in the design of his own house, the 84-room Laurelton Hall in Oyster Bay, NY, which was completed in 1905. Later this estate was donated to his foundation for art students along with 60 acres of land sold in 1949, but was destroyed by a fire in 1957.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959)
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was also an interior designer, writer and educator who designed more than 1,000 projects, of which more than 500 resulted in completed works.
Wright promoted organic architecture, was a leader of the Prairie School movement of architecture, and developed the concept of the Usonian home. Wright also often designed many of the interior elements of his buildings, such as the furniture and stained glass.
Wright fully embraced glass in his designs and found that it fit well into his philosophy of organic architecture. Glass allowed for interaction and viewing of the outdoors while still offering protection from the elements. In 1928, Wright wrote an essay on glass in which he compared it to the mirrors of nature, such as lakes, rivers and ponds. One of Wright's earliest uses of glass in his works was to string panes of glass along whole walls in an attempt to create light screens to join together solid walls. By utilizing such a large amount of glass, Wright sought to achieve a balance between the lightness and airiness of the glass and the solid, hard walls. Wright's most well-known art glass is that of the Prairie style. The simple geometric shapes that yield to very ornate and intricate windows represent some of the most integral ornamentation of his career.