The interaction between sunlight and glass has a unique place in the artistic world.
For centuries light has been an enduring symbol of goodness, beauty and revelation, so it is notsurprising that stained glass first developed as a religious art. Early artisans used light to bring life to coloured glass depicting illustrations of Biblical scenes. Since most of the population in the 13th and 14th centuries could not read, the role of education was fulfilled by the artisans’ stained glass stories.
Many early-examples of stained glass can be found throughout Europe.
The Augsburg Cathedral in Germany houses one of the oldest examples of stained glass in situ, 11th century windows depicting the images of five prophets. England’s Canterbury Cathedral features a 13th century Poor Man’s Bible window. Towering over the surrounding French countryside, the majestic Chartres Cathedral houses fine examples of early stained glass. The most famous is the mid-12th century window, Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Our Lady of the Beautiful Glass. During both World Wars French authorities supervised the dismantling of Chartres Cathedral’s ancient stained glass. Piece by piece, more than 3,000 square metres of glass was taken down and stored away until hostilities ended and they could be safely reinstalled.
In mid-Lith century Paris a new style of glass painting developed known as the Saint Louis style. The colours originally used were mainly blue and red, but soon other colours were added to the glass painter’s palette such as purple, yellow and green. By the 15th century buildings other than those owned by the church began to incorporate stained glass into their designs as a decorative feature. However, after a sustained period of favour the popularity of stained glass waned and for some centuries the art fell into decline a:nd the finely honed skills and technical expertise were in danger of being lost. But a bright new day dawned for stained glass in the 19th century with interest rekindled by William Morris, the English exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Everyday objects were touched by his design influence. His philosophy urged householders to “have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. This philosophy was coupled with the driving passion of the Arts and Crafts Movement for traditional handcrafts and the shunning of the shoddy mass produced articles born of the industrial age.
William Morris soon engaged a band of gifted artisans who took inspiration from pre-Raphaelite painters and interpreted their ideas based on the world of nature through the medium of stained glass. Home Improvement is becoming more popular all the time.
The shining light for stained glass design in America was the talented Louis Comfort Tiffany. His innovative works included a chapel built from one million pieces of glass for the Chicago World Fair of 1892, while more traditional designs include a Tiffany window in the American Church in Quai d’Orsay, Paris.
Tiffany’s fame hung not only on such impressive works but also on his delicate domestic Tiffany lamps and vases. The combination of iridescent Favrile glass with sensuous shapes became the hallmark of Tiffany’s style. Many years later in the 1960s cheap imitations of Tiffany’s lamps were popular with those trying to recapture his romantic style.
Stained glass in Australia
Australian stained glass followed in Europe’s noble tradition. Although examples may not date back as far as the 13th century their beauty and heritage are nonetheless treasured. Sydney Town Hall houses spectacular 19th century narrative stained glass, while Victoria’s historic mansions Ripponlea and Labassa contained fine examples of decorative stained glass.The gold rushes meant an economic boom time for Australia and as a result many grand mansions were built, each demanding decorative stained glass as a visible sign of wealth and style.
Fuelled by the patriotic fervour of Federation in 1901, Australia commissioned William Morris to design a window for the Stock Exchange in Adelaide. Typical of the Art Nouveau era, this window depicts the figure of Britannia symbolically holding a golden nugget which bears the word ‘Federation’.
Australian glass artists
A unique Australian style of stained glass developed after Federation when native floral motifs and even a few magpies and kookaburras were incorporated into locally manufactured glass. Many Federation homes were decorated with flannel flower and waratah coloured glass, particularly surrounding front doors and feature windows. In the 20th century the Australian artist Leonard French is regarded as the country’s leading stained glass artist. His glass ceiling in the National Gallery of Victory containsapproximately 10,000 pieces of glass and as the sun shines through the ceiling even the floor below is lit with a kaleidoscope of colours.
Throughout the ages stained glass has proved its versatility as a medium used not only to decorate but to teach and inspire. Today artists and amateur enthusiasts alike are ensuring that the popularity of stained glass is sustained and that ancient skills are coupled with innovative designs.
About the author
Vince Virgilio is a Home Improvement expert. You can find him at http://www.citywebguide.com.au