The term stained glass refers either to the material of coloured glass or to the art and craft of working with it. Throughout its thousand-year history the term "stained glass" was applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches, cathedrals and other significant buildings. Although traditionally made in flat panels and used as windows, the creations of modern stained glass artists also include three-dimensional structures and sculpture.
Modern vernacular usage has often extended the term "stained glass" to include domestic leadlight and objets d'art created from lead came and copper foil glasswork such as exemplified in the famous lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
As a material the term stained glass generally refers to glass that has been coloured by adding metallic salts during its manufacture. The coloured glass is crafted into stained glass windows in which small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, held together (traditionally) by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame. Painted details and yellow stain are often used to enhance the design. The term stained glass is also applied to windows in which all the colours have been painted onto the glass and then annealed in a furnace.
Stained glass, as an art and a craft, requires the artistic skill to conceive an appropriate workable design, and the engineering skills necessary to assemble the decorative piece, traditionally a window, so that it will fit snugly into the window frame for which it is made and also, especially in the larger windows, is capable of supporting its own weight and surviving the elements. Many large windows have withstood the test of time and remained substantially intact since the late Middle Ages. In Western Europe they constitute the major form of pictorial art to have survived. In this context, the purpose of a stained glass window is not to allow those within a building to see the world outside or even primarily to admit light but rather to control it. For this reason stained glass windows have been described as 'illuminated wall decorations'.
The design of a window may be non-figurative or figurative. It may incorporate narratives drawn from the Bible, history or literature, or represent saints or patrons. It may have symbolic motifs, in particular armorial. Windows within a building may be thematic, for example: within a church - episodes from the life of Christ; within a parliament building - shields of the constituencies; within a college hall - figures representing the arts and sciences; or within a home - flora, fauna or landscape.
Cylinder glass This glass was collected from the pot into a molten ball and blown, while being continually manipulated until it formed a large cylindrical bottle shape of even diameter and wall-thickness. It was then cut open, laid flat and annealed to make it stable. This is the type of glass most commonly used for ancient stained glass windows.
Crown glass This glass was partly blown into a hollow vessel, then put onto a revolving table which could be rapidly spun like a potter's wheel. The centrifugal force caused the molten material to flatten and spread outwards. It could then be cut into small sheets. This glass could be made coloured and used for stained glass windows, but is typically associated with small paned windows of 16th and 17th century houses. The concentric, curving ripples are characteristic of this process. The center of each piece of glass received less force during the spinning, and thus produced was a thicker piece. These centres were for the special effect created by their lumpy, refractive quality. They are known as bull's eyes and are feature of late 19th century domestic leadlight and are sometimes also used with cathedral glass or quarry glass in non-pictorial church windows of that date.
Table glass This glass was produced by pouring molten glass onto a metal table and sometimes rolling it with a large metal cylinder. The glass thus produced is heavily textured by the reaction of the glass with the cold metal. Glass of this appearance is commercially produced and widely used today, under the name of cathedral glass, although it was not the type of glass favoured for stained glass in ancient cathedrals. It has been much used for lead lighting in churches in the 20th century. Modern glass made by this technique is often heavily patterned by the use of an engrave metal roller.
Flashed glass Red pot metal glass was often undesirably dark in colour and prohibitively expensive. The method developed to produce red glass was called flashing. In this procedure, a semi-molten cylinder of clear glass was dipped into a pot of red glass so that the red glass formed a thin coating. The laminated glass thus formed was cut, flattened and heat annealed.
There are a number of advantages to this technique. It allows a variety in the depth of red ranging from very dark and almost opaque, through ruby red to pale and sometimes streaky red that was often used for thin border pieces. The other advantage was that the red of double-layered glass could be engraved or abraded to allow light to shine through the clear glass underneath. In the late Medieval period, this method was often employed to add rich patterns to the robes of Saints. The other advantage, much exploited by late Victorian and early 20th century artists, was that sheets could be flashed in which the depth of colour varied across the sheet. This was applied to a range of colours. Some stained glass studios, notably Lavers, Barraud and Westlake in England, made extensive use of large segments of irregularly flashed glass in robes and draperies.
Modern production of traditional glass There are a number of glass factories, notably in Germany, USA, England, France, Poland and Russia, which produce high quality glass by traditional methods. Such glass is produced primarily for the restoration of older windows from 1920s and before. The production of new windows in traditional Victorian, Arts and Crafts and early 20th century styles often uses traditional glass. Modern stained glass windows also often use a variety of these different types of glass, or employ commercially made glass.
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. Similar effects were achieved with greater elaboration using coloured glass rather than stone by Muslim architects in Southwest Asia. In the 8th century, the Muslim alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) scientifically described 46 original recipes for producing coloured glass in Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna (The Book of the Hidden Pearl), in addition to which 12 recipes were inserted by al-Marrakishi in a later edition of the book. Jabir also described the production of high quality coloured glass cut into artificial gemstones.
In the Romanesque and Early Gothic period, from about 950 AD to 1240 AD, the untraceried windows demanded large expanses of glass which of necessity were supported by robust iron frames, such as may be seen at Chartres Cathedral and at the eastern end of Canterbury Cathedral. As Gothic architecture developed into a more ornate form, windows grew larger, affording greater illumination to the interiors, but were divided into sections by vertical shafts and tracery of stone. The elaboration of form reached its height of complexity in the Flamboyant style in Europe and windows grew still larger with the development of the Perpendicular style in England.
Integrated with the lofty verticals of Gothic cathedrals and parish churches, the glass designs became more daring. The circular form, or rose window developed in France from relatively simple windows with pierced openings through slabs of thin stone to wheel windows, as exemplified by that in the West front of Chartres Cathedral, and ultimately to designs of enormous complexity, the tracery being drafted from hundreds of different points, such as those at Sainte-Chapelle, Paris and the "Bishop's Eye" at Lincoln Cathedral.
In Europe, however, stained glass continued to be produced in the Classical style which is widely represented in Germany, Belgium and Holland, despite the rise of Protestantism. In France much glass of this period was produced at the Limoges factory, and at Murano in Italy, where stained glass and faceted lead crystal are often coupled together in the same window. Ultimately, in France the French Revolution brought about the neglect or destruction of many windows.
Hardman of Birmingham
Because of the technical requirements, stained glass making was generally on an industrial scale. 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, but on his death in 1852, his nephew John Hardman Powell (1828-1895) took over. A keen Catholic, Powell's work appealed to Anglo-Catholic tastes but he also had a commercial eye and exhibited his works at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1873. After that the firm did a good deal of work in the United States of America.
Famous manufacturers of the mid-19th century
William Morris Among the foremost designers were the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris (1834-1898) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). While Burne-Jones is best known today 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's designs.
Clayton and Bell, and Kempe Clayton and Bell's output was considerable and it was said that most English churches had one of their windows and many had nothing else. Among their designers was Charles Eamer Kempe (1837–1907) who set up his own workshop in 1869. His designs were lighter than that of his former employers: it was he who designed all the windows for the chapel of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is credited with having produced over 3,000 windows. His cousin Walter Tower took over the business — adding a Tower to the Wheatsheaf emblem used by Kempe — and which continued until 1934.
Gallery of 19th and early 20th century windows, displaying four very different styles.
Ward and Hughes, William Wailes
Another important firm was Ward and Hughes which, though it had begun by following the Gothic style 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. Wailes himself was a business man, not a designer but used designers such as Joseph Baguley (1834-1915) who eventually set up his own firm.
Tiffany and La Farge
Notable American practitioners include John La Farge (1835-1910) who invented opalescent glass and for which he received a US patent February 24, 1880, and Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), who received several patents for variations of the same opalescent process in November of the same year and is believed to have invented the copper foil method as an alternative to lead, and used it extensively in windows, lamps and other decorations.
Today there are academic establishments that teach the traditional skills. One of these is Florida State University's Master Craftsman Program who recently completed the world's largest secular stained-glass windows installed in Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
In the US, there is a 100-year-old trade organization, The Stained Glass Association of America, whose purpose is to function as a publicly recognized organization to assure survival of the craft by offering guidelines, instruction and training to craftspersons. The SGAA also sees its role as defending and protecting its craft against regulations that might restrict its freedom as an architectural art form. The current president is B. Gunar Gruenke of the Conrad Schmitt Studios.
Notable stained glass artists of the period include Ervin Bossanyi, Patrick Reyntiens, Ludwig Schaffrath, Johannes Shreiter, Douglas Strachan, Judith Schaechter, Jean René Bazaine at Saint Séverin and the Loire Studio of Gabriel Loire at Chartres. Luxus Keibel studio in Mexico specialises in domestic stained glass in both contemporary and 19th century styles. The west windows of Manchester cathedral in England by Tony Hollaway are some of the most notable examples of symbolic work.
Stained glass windows were commonly used in churches for decorative and informative purposes. Many windows are donated to churches by members of the congregation as memorials of loved ones. For more information on the use of stained glass to depict religious subjects, see Poor Man's Bible
Stained glass windows in houses were particularly popular in Victorian era and many domestic examples survive. In their simplest form they typically depict birds and flowers in small panels, often surrounded with machine-made cathedral glass, which, despite what the name suggests, is pale-coloured and textured. Some large homes have splendid examples of secular pictorial glass. Many small houses of the 19th and early 20th centuries have leadlight windows.
Public and commercial use of stained glass
Town halls, schools, colleges and other public buildings often incorporate stained glass or leadlighting.