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

s 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.