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Stained Glass

In these days there is a tendency to judge the merits of stained glass
from the standpoint of the archaeologist. It is good or bad in so far as
it is directly imitative of work of the fourteenth or fifteenth century.
The art had reached to a surprising degree of beauty and perfection in
the fifteenth century, and although under the influence of the
Renaissance some good work was done, it rapidly declined only to lift
its head once more with the revived study of the architecture of the
Middle Ages.

The burning energy of Pugin, which nothing could escape, was directed
towards this end, but the attainment of a mere archaeological correctness
was the chief aim in view. The crude draughtsmanship of the ancient
craftsman was diligently imitated, but the spirit and charm of the
original was lost, as, in a mere imitation, it must be. In the revival
of the art, whilst there was an attempt to imitate the drawing, there
was no attempt to reproduce the quality of the ancient glass. Thus,
brilliant, transparent, and unbroken tints were used, lacking all the
richness and splendour of colour so characteristic of the originals.
Under these conditions of blind imitation the modern worker in stained
glass produced things probably more hideous than the world ever saw

Departing altogether from the traditions of the mediaeval schools,
whether ancient or modern, there has arisen another school which has
found its chief exponents at Munich. The object of these people has
been, ignoring the condition under which they must necessarily work, to
produce an ordinary picture in enamelled colours upon sheets of glass.
The result has been the production of mere transparencies no better than
painted blinds.

What then, it may be asked, are the limiting conditions, imposed upon
him by the nature of the materials, within which the craftsman must work
to produce a satisfactory result?

In the first place, a stained glass window is not an easel picture. It
does not stand within a frame, as does the easel picture, in isolation
from the objects surrounding it; it is not even an object to be looked
at by itself; its duty is, not only to be beautiful, but to play its
part in the adornment of the building in which it is placed, being
subordinated to the effect the interior is intended to produce as a
whole. It is, in fact, but one of many parts that go to produce a
complete result. A visit to one of our mediaeval churches, such as York
Minster, Gloucester Cathedral, or Malvern Priory, church buildings,
which still retain much of their ancient glass, and a comparison of the
unity of effect there experienced with the internecine struggle
exhibited in most buildings furnished by the glass painters of to-day,
will surely convince the most indifferent that there is yet much to be

Secondly, the great difference between coloured glass and painted glass
must be kept in view. A coloured glass window is in the nature of a
mosaic. Not only are no large pieces of glass used, but each piece is
separated from and at the same time joined to its neighbour by a thin
grooved strip of lead which holds the two. "Coloured glass is obtained
by a mixture of metallic oxides whilst in a state of fusion. This
colouring pervades the substance of the glass and becomes incorporated
with it."[1] It is termed "pot-metal." An examination of such a piece of
glass will show it to be full of varieties of a given colour, uneven in
thickness, full of little air-bubbles and other accidents which cause
the rays of light to play in and through it with endless variety of
effect. It is the exact opposite to the clear sheet of ordinary

To build up a decorative work (and such a form of expression may be
found very appropriate in this craft) in coloured glass, the pieces
must be carefully selected, the gradations of tint in a given piece
being made use of to gain the result aimed at. The leaded "canes" by
which the whole is held together are made use of to aid the effect. Fine
lines and hatchings are painted as with "silver stain," and in this
respect only is there any approach to enamelling in the making of a
coloured glass window. The glass mosaic as above described is held in
its place in the window by horizontal iron bars, and the position of
these is a matter of some importance, and is by no means overlooked by
the artist in considering the effect of his finished work. A
well-designed coloured glass window is, in fact, like nothing else in
the world but itself. It is not only a mosaic; it is not merely a
picture. It is the honest outcome of the use of glass for making a
beautiful window which shall transmit light and not look like anything
but what it is. The effect of the work is obtained by the contrast of
the rich colours of the pot-metal with the pearly tones of the clear

We must now describe a painted window, so that the distinction between
a coloured and a painted window may be clearly made out. Quoting from
the same book as before--"To paint glass the artist uses a plate of
translucent glass, and applies the design and colouring with vitrifiable
colours. These colours, true enamels, are the product of metallic oxides
combined with vitreous compounds called fluxes. Through the medium of
these, assisted by a strong heat, the colouring matters are fixed upon
the plate of glass." In the painted window we are invited to forget that
glass is being used. Shadows are obtained by loading the surface with
enamel colours; the fullest rotundity of modelling is aimed at; the lead
and iron so essentially necessary to the construction and safety of the
window are concealed with extraordinary skill and ingenuity. The
spectator perceives a hole in the wall with a very indifferent picture
in it--overdone in the high lights, smoky and unpleasant in the shadows,
in no sense decorative. We need concern ourselves no more with painted
windows; they are thoroughly false and unworthy of consideration.

Of coloured or stained windows, as they are more commonly called, many
are made, mostly bad, but there are amongst us a few who know how to
make them well, and these are better than any made elsewhere in Europe
at this time.



[1] Industrial Arts, "Historical Sketches," p. 195, published for the
Committee of Council on Education. Chapman and Hall.

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