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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Stained (or Painted) Glass

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Stained (Or Painted) Glass

Though often used as if they were synonymous, there is a broad distinction between these terms. Stained glass is glass the substance of which has been stained or colored in the process of manufacture; while painted glass is that which, whether previously stained or colorless, has had a design painted upon it in colors, usually metallic oxides, combined with a vitreous vehicle or flux. The art of making colored glass was known to the Egyptians and Assyrians, and from them passed to the Greeks and Romans. The earliest reference to the use of stained-glass windows in Europe appears to be in a passage of Prudentius, about the middle of the 5th century; but a more distinct mention is made in the following century. Painted glass windows are not spoken of for two or, three centuries later. The earliest examples, discovered by Lasteyrie, are in the abbey of Tegernsee, Bavaria, presented to the abbey by count Arnold in A.D. 999. Five other windows in the same abbey, painted by the monk Wernher, date between 1068 and 1091. At Hildesheim there are also some which are attributed to one Bruno, and to the years 1029-39. The earliest examples in France belong to the 12th. century, the oldest being a representation of the funeral of the Virgin, in Angers Cathedral, of the first half of the century; the others are some medallion windows of a very remarkable character, placed in St. Denis by the abbe Suger in the latter half of the century. There is, however, a small portion believed to be of the 11th century at Le Mans. The earliest known examples in Great Britain are of the end of the 12th century, as in the clearstory of Canterbury. It was in the latter part of the 12th and the 13th century that the art made its greatest advance; and, as decorative works; the windows of the 13th century are superior to those of any other period. The oldest English examples are in Canterbury and Salisbury cathedrals; but the finest are the magnificent five sister lancets (fifty feet high) of York Minster, and the great rose window of Lincoln Cathedral, in which the central Majesty (or Christ in Glory) is surrounded by sixteen compartments containing the typical events of the life of Christ. The chief French examples many of them of extraordinary grandeur and beauty are in the cathedrals of Chartres, Bourges, Paris, Amiens, Soissons, Rouen, and Sens, and the Sainte Chapelle, Paris.

The painted glass of the 14th century was more vivid in color, broader in style, and the painting better executed; but it was less pure in conception, and less strictly subordinated to the general architectural effect. One of the best examples of English work of this period is the east window of Bristol Cathedral. Other characteristic examples occur at York Minster; Exeter Cathedral; the chapel of Merton College, Oxford; Tewkesbury Abbey Church; Norbury Church, Derbyshire; Lowick Church, Northamptonshire, etc.

In the 15th century a great change took place in glass painting. The windows became still more individualized, and less dependent on the architecture. The subjects occupied a larger space, and were treated more as pictures. The details are put in with much care, and very skilful manipulation is exhibited throughout. But the color is poor, white glass is chiefly employed, and the general effect is cold and comparatively feeble. Some of the examples the earlier ones especially are, however, very elaborate and impressive. Of this class is the magnificent east window of the choir of York Minster, which consists of no fewer than one hundred and sixteen compartments, each having a separate subject. By the end of the 15th century Gothic architecture was everywhere dead or dying. The aim of glass painters was to rival the effects of oil paintings; and windows were mere imitations of oil pictures, the glass being treated as if it were a canvas or panel. Examples are to be seen in the splendid series of twenty- seven large windows of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, 1527 and succeeding years; the great east window of St. Margaret's, Westminster; Fairford Church. In France there are numerous fine examples of 16th- century windows in the cathedrals of Bourges, Auxerre, Auch, Beauvais, Sens, Rheims, etc. From this time glass painting fell more and more into disrepute, though windows continued to be painted, and some glass painters, especially in France, acquired a certain celebrity. The renovation of the art was coincident with the revival of Gothic architecture. It has since been studied earnestly by archaeologists, and pursued zealously by a numerous body of practitioners. Hitherto, however, little original power has been exhibited in the designs; the object aimed at being mainly to produce faithful imitations of mediaeval glass, the style: being of the 13th, 14th, or 15th century, according to the taste of the patron. There is a kind of ornamental. window glass called matted work, in which the glass is covered with a very fusible composition, either white or tinted, reduced to a powder. This powder is then removed from certain parts of the glass, according to the required pattern, and, after firing, produces on the glass a dull ground with a bright pattern. Another method of ornamenting glass, rather inappropriately called embossing, consists of a bright figure on a dull ground. This is etched with hydrofluoric acid.

The following are works to consult as to the history of the art: Gessert, Geschichte der Glasmalerei in Deutschland und Niederlanden, Frankreich, England, etc. (Stuttgart, 1839, 8vo); Lasteyrie, Histoire de la Peinture sur Verre d'apres des Monumens en France (Paris, 1838-56.: 2 vols. fol.); Warrington, History of Stained Glass from the Earliest Period of the Art to the Present Time (1848, 1 vol. fol.); Weale, Divers Works of Early Masters in Christian Decoration (1846-47, 2 vols. fol.). For authorities on the theory and practice of the art, consult the English Cyclopoedia, Arts and Sciences, art. "Glass," to which article we are indebted for most of the above information.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Stained (or Painted) Glass'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/s/stained-or-painted-glass.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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