Online Encyclopedia

STAINED GLASS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 108 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
STAINED GLASS. All coloured glass is, strictly speaking, " stained " by some metallic oxide added to it in the process of manufacture. But the term " stained glass " is popularly, as well as technically, used in a more limited sense, and is under-stood to refer to stained glass windows. Still the words " stained glass " do not fully describe what is meant; for the glass in coloured windows is for the most part not only stained but painted. Such painting was, however, until comparatively modern times, used only to give details of drawing and to define form. The colour in a stained glass window was not painted on the glass but incorporated in it, mixed with it in the making—whence the term " pot-metal " by which self-coloured glass is known, i.e. glass coloured in the melting pot. A medieval window was consequently a patchwork of variously coloured pieces. And the earlier its date the more surely was it a mosaic, not in the form of tesserae, but in the manner known as " opus sectile." Shaped pieces of coloured glass were, that is to say, put together like the parts of a puzzle. The nearest approach to an exception to this rule is a fragment at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in which actual tesserae are fused together into a solid slab of many-coloured glass, in effect a window panel, through which the light shines with all the brilliancy of an Early Gothic window. But apart from the fact that the design proves in this case to be even more effective with the light upon it, the use of gold leaf in the tesserae con-firms the presumption that this work, which (supposing it to be genuine) would be Byzantine, centuries earlier than any coloured windows that we know of, and entirely different from them in technique, is rather a specimen of fused mosaic that happens to be translucent than part of a window designedly executed in tesserae. The Eastern (and possibly the earlier) practice was to set chips of coloured glass in a heavy fretwork of stone or to imbed them in plaster. in a medieval window they were held together by strips of lead, in section something like the letter H , the upright strokes of which represent the " tapes " extending on either side well over the edges of the glass, and the crossbar the connecting " core " between them. The leading was soldered together at the points of junction, cement or putty was rubbed into the crevices between glass and lead, and the window was attached (by means of copper wires soldered on to the leads) to iron saddle-bars let into the masonry. Stained glass was primarily the art of the glazier; but the painter, called in to help, asserted himself more and more, and eventually took it almost entirely into his own hands. Between the period when it was glazier's work eked out by painting and when it was painter's work with the aid of the glazier lies the entire development of stained and painted window-making. With the eventual endeavour of the glass painter to do without the glazier, and to get the colour by painting in translucent enamel upon colourless glass, we have the beginning of a form of art no longer monumental and comparatively trivial. This evolution • of the painted window from a patchwork of little pieces of coloured glass explains itself when it is remembered that coloured glass was originally not made in the big sheets produced nowadays, but at first in jewels to look as much as possible like rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones, and afterwards in rounds and sheets of small dimensions. Though some of the earliest windows were in the form of pure glazing (" leaded-lights "), the addition of painting seems to have been customary from the very first. It was a means of rendering detail not to be got in lead. Glazing affords by itself scope for beautiful pattern work; but the old glaziers never carried their art as far as they might have done in the direction of ornament; their aim was always in the direction of picture; the idea was to make windows serve the purpose of coloured story books. That was beyond the art of the glazier. It was easy enough to represent the drapery of a saint by red glass, the ground on which he stood by green, the sky above by blue, his crown by yellow, the scroll in his hand by white, and his flesh by brownish pink; but when it came to showing the folds of red drapery, blades of green grass, details of goldsmith's work, lettering on the scroll, the features of the face—the only possible way of doing it was by painting. The use of paint was confined at first to an opaque brown, used, not as colour, but only as a means of stopping out light, and in that way defining comparatively delicate details within the lead lines. These themselves outlined and defined the main forms of the design. The pigment used by the glass painter was of course vitreous: it consisted of powdered glass and sundry metallic oxides (copper, iron, manganese, &c.), so that, when the pieces of painted glass were made red hot in the kiln, the powdered glass became fused to the surface, and with it the dense colouring matter also. When the pieces of painted glass were afterwards glazed together and seen against the light, the design appeared in the brilliant colour of the glass, its forms drawn in the uniform black into which, at a little distance, leadwork and painting lines became merged. It needed solid painting to stop out the light entirely: thin paint only-obscured it. And, even in early glass, thin paint was used, whether to subdue crude colour or to indicate what littleshading a 13th-century draughtsman might desire. In the present state of old glass, the surface often quite disintegrated, it is difficult to determine to what extent thin paint was used for either purpose. There must always have been the temptation to make tint do instead of solid lines; but the more workmanlike practice, and the usual one, was to get difference of tint, as a pen-draughtsman does, by lines of solid opaque colour. In comparatively colourless glass (grisaille) the pattern was often made to stand out by cross-hatching the background; and another common practice was to coat the glass with paint all over, and scrape the design out of it. The effect of either proceeding was to lower the tone of the glass without dirtying the colour, as a smear of thin paint would do. Towards the 14th century, when Gothic design took a more naturalistic direction, the desire to get something like modelling made it necessary to carry painting farther, and they got rid to some extent of the ill effect of shading-colour smeared on the glass by stippling it. This not only softened the tint and allowed of gradation according to the amount of stippling, but Iet some light through, where the bristles of the stippling-tool took up the pigment. Shading of this kind enforced by touches of strong brushwork, cross-hatching and some scratching out of high lights was the method of glass painting adopted in the 14th century. Glass was never at the best a pleasant surface to paint on; and glass painting, following the line of least resistance, developed' in the later Gothic and early Renaissance periods into something unlike any other form of painting. The outlines continued to be traced upon the glass and fixed in the fire; but, after that, the process of painting consisted mainly in the removal of paint. The entire surface of the glass was coated with an even " matt " of pale brown; this was allowed to dry; and then the high lights were rubbed off, and the modelling was got by scrubbing away the paint with a dry hog-hair brush, more or less, according to the gradations required. Perfect modelling was got by repeating the operation—how often depended upon the dexterity of the painter. A painter's method is partly the outcome of his individuality. One man would float on his colour and manipulate it to some extent in the moist state; another would work entirely upon the dry matt. Great use was made of the pointed stick with which sharp lines of light were easily scraped out; and in the 16th century Swiss glass painters, working upon a relatively small scale, got their modelling entirely with a needle-point, scraping away the paint just as an etcher scratches away the varnish from his etching plate. The practice of the two craftsmen is, indeed, identical, though the one scratches out what are to be black lines and the other lines of light. In the end, then, though a painter would always use touches of the brush to get crisp lines of dark, the manipulation of glass painting consisted more in erasing lights than in painting shadows, more in rubbing out or scraping off paint than in putting it on in brush strokes. So far there was no thought of getting colour by means of paint. The colour was in the glass itself, permeating the mass (" pot-metal "). There was only one exception to this—ruby glass, the colour of which was so dense that red glass thick enough for its purpose would have been practically obscure; and so they made a colourless pot-metal coated on one side only with red glass. This led to a practice which forms an exception to the rule that in "pot-metal" glass every change of colour, or from colour to white, is got by the use of a separate piece of glass. It was possible in the case of this " flashed " ruby to grind away portions of the surface and thus obtain white on red or red on white. Eventually they made coated glass of blue and other colours, with a view to producing similar effects by abrasion. (The same result is arrived at nowadays by means of etching. The skin of coloured glass, in old days laboriously ground or cut away, is now easily eaten off by fluoric acid.) One other exceptional expedient in colouring had very considerable effect upon the development of glass design from about the beginning of the 14th century. The discovery that a solution of silver applied to glass WQUUd under the action of the fire stain it yellow enabled the glass painter to get yellow upon colourless glass, green upon grey-blue, and (by staining only the abraded portions) yellow upon blue or ruby. This yellow was neither enamel nor pot-metal colour, but stain—the only staining actually done by the glass painter as distinct from the glass maker. It varied in colour from pale lemon to deep orange, and was singularly pure in quality. As what is called " white " glass became purer and was employed in greater quantities it was lavishly used; so much so that a brilliant effect of silvery white and golden yellow is characteristic of later Gothic windows. The last stage of glass painting was the employment of enamel not for stopping out light but to get colour. It began to be used in the early part of the 16th century—at first only in the form of a flesh tint; but it was not long before other colours were introduced. This use of colour no longer in the glass but upon it marks quite a new departure in technique. Enamel colour was finely powdered coloured glass mixed with gum or some such substance into a pigment which could be applied with a brush. When the glass painted with it was brought to a red heat in the oven, the powdered glass melted and was fused to it, just like the opaque brown employed from the very beginning of glass-painting. This process of enamelling was hardly called for in the interests of art. Even the red flesh-colour (borrowed from the Limoges enamellers upon copper) did not in the least give the quality of flesh, though it enabled the painter to suggest by contrast the whiteness of a man's beard. As for the brighter enamel colours, they had nothing like the depth or richness of "stained " glass. What enamel really did was to make easy much that had been impossible in mosaic, as, for example, to represent upon the very smallest shield of arms any number of " charges " all in the correct tinctures. It encouraged the minute workmanship characteristic of Swiss glass painting; and, though this was not altogether inappropriate to domestic window panes, the painter was tempted by it'to depart from the simplicity and breadth of design inseparable from the earlier mosaic practice. In the end he introduced coloured glass only where he could hardly help it, and glazed the great part of his window in rectangular panes of clear glass, upon which he preferred to paint his picture in opaque brown and translucent enamel colours. Enamel upon glass has not stood the test of time. Its presence is usually to be detected in old windows by specks of light shining through the colour. This is where the enamel has crumbled off. There is a very good reason for that. Enamel must melt at a temperature at which the glass it is painted on keeps its shape. The lower the melting point of the powdered glass the more easily it is fused. The painter is consequently inclined to use enamel of which the contraction and expansion is much greater than that of his glass—with the result that, under the action of the weather, the colour is apt to work itself free and expose the bare white glass beneath. The only enamel which has held its own is that of the Swiss glass-painters of the 16th and 17th centuries. The domestic window panes they painted may not in all cases have been tried by the sudden changes of atmosphere to which church windows are subject; but credit must be given them for exceptionally skilful and conscientious workmanship. The story of stained glass is bound up with the history of architecture, to which it was subsidiary, and of the church, which was its patron. Its only possible course of development was in the wake of church building. From its very inception it was Gothic and ecclesiastical. And, though it survived the upheaval of the Renaissance and was turned to civil and domestic use, it is to church windows that we must go to'see what stained glass really was—or is; for time has been kind to it. The charm of medieval glass lies to a great extent in the material, and especially in the inequality of it. Chemically impure and mechanic-ally imperfect, it was rarely crude in tint or even in texture. It shaded off from light to dark according to its thickness; it was speckled with air bubbles; it was streaked and clouded; and all these imperfections of manufacture went to perfection of colour. And age has • improved it: the want of homogeneousness in the material has led to the disintegration of its surface; soft particlesin it have been dissolved away by the action of the weather, and the surface, pitted like an oyster-shell, refracts the light in a way which adds greatly to the effect; at the same time there is roothold for the lichen which (like the curtains of black cobwebs) veils and gives mystery to the colour. An appreciable part of the beauty of old glass is the result of age and accident. In that respect no new glass can compare with it. There is, however, no such thing as " the lost secret " of glass-making. It is no secret that age mellows. Stained and painted glass is commonly apportioned to its " period," Gothic or Renaissance, and further to the particular phase of the style to which it belongs. C. Winston, who was the first to inquire thoroughly into English glass, adopting T. Rickman's classification, divided Gothic windows into Early English (to c. 128o), Decorated (to c. 138o) and Perpendicular (to c. 1530). These dates will do. But the transition from one phase of design to another is never so sudden, nor so easily defined, as any table of dates would lead us to suppose. The old style lingered in one district long after the new fashion was flourishing in another. Besides, the English periods do not quite coincide with those of other countries. France, Germany and the Low Countries count for much in the history of stained glass; and in no two places was the pace of progress quite the same. There was, for example, scarcely any 13th-century Gothic in Germany, where the " geometric " style, equivalent to our Decorated,-was preceded by the Romanesque period; in France the Flamboyant took the place of our Perpendicular; and in Italy Gothic never properly took root at all. All these considered, a rather rough and ready division presents the least difficulty to the student of old glass; and it will be found convenient to think of Gothic glass as (1) Early, (2) Middle and (3) Late, and of the subsequent windows as (1) Renaissance and (2) Late Renaissance. The three periods of Gothic correspond approximately to the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. The limits of the two periods of the Renaissance are not so easily defined. In the first part of the 16th century (in Italy long before that) the Renaissance and Gothic periods overlapped; in the latter part of it, glass painting was already on the decline; and in the 17th and 18th centuries it sank to deeper depths of degradation. The likeness of early windows to translucent enamel (which is also glass) is obvious. The lines of lead glazing correspond absolutely to the " cloisons " of Byzantine goldsmith's work. Moreover, the extreme minuteness of the leading (not always either mechanically necessary or architecturally desirable) suggests that the starting point of all this gorgeous illumination was the idea of reproducing on a grandiose scale. the jewelled effect produced in small by cloisonne enamellers. In other respects the earliest glass shows the influence of Byzantine tradition. It is mainly according to the more or less Byzantine character of its design and draughtsmanship that archaeologists ascribe certain remains of old glass to the 12th or the 11th century. Apart from documentary or direct historic evidence, it is not possible to determine the precise date of any particular fragment. In the " restored " windows at St Denis there are remnants of glass belonging to the year 1 ro8. Elsewhere in France (Reims, Anger, Le Mans, Chartres, &c.) there is to be found very early glass, some of it probably not much later than the end of the loth century, which is the date confidently ascribed to certain windows at St Remi (Reims) and at Tegernsee. The rarer the specimen the greater may be its technical and antiquarian interest. But, even if we could be quite sure of its date, there is not enough of this very early work, and it does not sufficiently ..distinguish itself from what followed, to count artistically for much. The glory of early glass belongs to the 13th century. The design of windows was influenced, of course, by the conditions of the workshop, by the nature of glass, the difficulty of shaping it, the way it could be painted, and the necessity of lead glazing. 1The place of glass in the scheme of church decoration led to a certain severity in the treatment of it. The growing desire to get more and more light into the churches, and the consequent manufacture of purer and more transparent.
End of Article: STAINED GLASS
[back]
GLASS CLOTH
[next]
ADOLF GLASSBRENNER (1810-1876)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.