Blessed Angelico, Church of St. Dominica in London

Stained glass

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Lyon
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Lyon

Stained glass is a work of monumental art in the form of a transparent composition of pieces of multi-colored glass installed in a window opening. Stained glass is an important decorative component of an architectural structure and is often used to decorate temples.

Unlike a regular window, stained glass, not only lets through, but also stains sunlight in multi-colored shades. A bright and colorful picture of colored glass in natural light creates a special atmosphere inside the building, emphasizes the beauty of the interior and has a strong emotional impact on a person.

Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

Types of stained glass

Stained-glass windows can differ according to several criteria, including the purpose (scope) and appearance features. But the most detailed and widespread is the division of stained glass compositions according to the technique of execution into the following types:

Classic or typesetting. A set of colored glass elements and a profile for connecting the fragments are made according to a pre-made template. Each glass piece is framed with a thin strip of non-ferrous metal and soldered to the adjacent one in accordance with the template. In the traditional technique, lead is used to make a profile, and thin copper strips are used in the manufacture of stained glass using the Tiffany method.

Saint Denis, France
Saint Denis, France

Painted. On the surface of the glass, a stained-glass artist paints an image with colored water-soluble paints. The composition is then covered with a protective layer and fired in an oven at a high temperature.

Sandblasting. A sheet of glass is treated with abrasive materials, most often with fine sand particles under high pressure. As a result, the smooth transparent glass surface becomes opaque.

Sintered (fusing). This technique does not use a metal profile. Pieces of glass make up an ornament or a plot, which is then fired in a furnace. Adjacent glass elements are sintered together and form an integral composition.

Paolo Ucello, Resurrection
Paolo Ucello, Resurrection

Etched. In this technique, a glass blank is treated with special aggressive substances. As a result of a chemical reaction, the top layer of glass dissolves, and the surface of the sheet in the treated areas becomes dull.

Cast. It is characterized by high labor intensity. Each glass module is cast or blown separately, and then a stained glass window is assembled from a set of elements. Glass parts are interconnected with reinforcement or construction cement.

Turku Cathedral
Turku Cathedral

Facet. In essence, it is very similar to the classical method of making a stained glass window. The difference lies in the fact that each glass part is chamfered before installation, and the composition is assembled from faceted elements.

Combined. It is a combination of two or more of the above stained glass techniques.

Various techniques for imitating stained-glass windows are also used to decorate the interior of buildings and premises. Among them, the most common:

Filling contour. Using colored paints, the artist first applies a drawing to the glass, and then a contour imitating a profile.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Lyon
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Lyon

Film. A colored polymer film and thin strips of metal tape are carefully glued onto a glass sheet, from which the composition is formed.

Invoice. In contrast to the previous technique, thicker materials (usually glass plates) are used instead of polymer films.

Photo printing. The image is applied to glass surfaces using modern printing equipment.

Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

Stained glass can also be divided into 3 main groups according to the type of image:

  • plot;
  • ornamental;
  • combined.
Cathedral of Le Mans
Cathedral of Le Mans

Stained glass history

The history of the stained-glass window, according to most scientists, is more than 2000 years old. The most ancient examples of this art belong to the ancient era. Mosaics made of colored glass were used to decorate the small window openings of the houses of the wealthy inhabitants of Rome. Historical documents have survived to this day, which testify that multi-colored stained-glass windows were installed on the windows of the Constantinople Sophia Cathedral as early as 330.

In the 4th-5th centuries, during the construction of early Christian churches in Western Europe, the practice of filling window openings with thin transparent alabaster plates with a wooden profile – a primitive imitation of a stained-glass window – was widespread. But already in the 6th century, colored glass and a lead profile began to be used for these purposes, as mentioned in many medieval chronicles.

Duccio di Buonisenya. Siena cathedral. Stained glass
Duccio di Buonisenya. Siena cathedral

The stained glass windows of Augsburg Cathedral, dating from 1065, are considered the most ancient works of this art that have come down to us. They used transparent glass, painted with multi-colored paints.

In the Middle Ages, in European architecture, stained glass panels depicted the figures of saints and even entire scenes from the Holy Scriptures. At the same time, ornamental stained-glass windows in mosques became widespread in the Islamic world.

During the Renaissance, there were major changes in stained glass art. Artists began to use glass windows as a basis for painting with tempera and later with oil paints.

Stained glass in St. Vitus Cathedral. Stained glass
Stained glass in St. Vitus Cathedral

During the Reformation in Western Europe, there was a massive destruction of churches in the course of religious wars. A huge number of old stained glass windows were broken, and instead of them, ordinary transparent glass was inserted. Gradually, the ancient stained glass techniques were lost until the end of the 19th century.

The revival of interest in stained glass was due to the brilliant American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. The son of the world famous founder of the jewelry company Tiffany & Co from the early 1880s. became interested in the manufacture of glass objects of decorative and applied art.

Bremen Cathedral. Stained glass
Bremen Cathedral

Louis invented his own stained glass technique, which proved to be extremely successful. Instead of lead plates as a profile for connecting glass elements, he began to use thin copper strips, which he glued with wax and soldered with tin.

The new technology made it possible to produce not only stained glass windows from colored glass, but also magnificent volumetric compositions. Exquisite lamps with glass shades began to be in great demand among wealthy people.

From the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day, the old ones are constantly being improved and alternative stained glass techniques appear. Bright colorful mosaic glass compositions are increasingly used not only in the design of temples. But also in the construction of public and commercial buildings.

Blessed Angelico, Church of St. Dominica in London. Stained glass
Blessed Angelico, Church of St. Dominica in London

The most famous stained glass windows in the world The most famous stained glass windows in the world include dozens of outstanding works of monumental art from different eras. And yet, it is worth highlighting the masterpiece stained glass compositions in the following buildings for various purposes:

  1. Aachen Cathedral (Germany) – VIII century.
  2. Gothic Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral (Paris, France) – XIII century.
  3. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque (Shiraz, Iran) – XIX century.
  4. Galeries Lafayette (Paris, France) – 1912.
  5. Grand Hotel Ciudad de Mexico City (Mexico) – 1968.
  6. York Gothic Cathedral (Great Britain) – XIII century.
  7. Palace of Catalan Music (Barcelona, ​​Spain) – 1908
  8. Chicago Cultural Center (USA) – 1897. Cathedral
  9. Notre Dame (France) – XII century.
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Stained glass
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris