1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Glass, Stained
GLASS, STAINED. 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 understood 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 confirms 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 little shading 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 let 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 ease 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 would 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 mechanically 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 particles in 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. 1280), Decorated (to c. 1380) 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 cloisonné 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 1108. 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 10th 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. The 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 glass, affected the glazier’s colour scheme. For all that, the fashion of a window was, mutatis mutandis, that of the painting, carving, embroidery, goldsmith’s work, enamel and other craftsmanship of the period. The design of an ivory triptych is very much that of a three-light window. There is a little enamelled shrine of German workmanship in the Victoria and Albert Museum which might almost have been designed for glass; and the famous painted ceiling at Hildesheim is planned precisely on the lines of a medallion window of the 13th century. By that time glass had fallen into ways of its own, and there were already various types of design which we now recognize as characteristic of the first great period, in some respects the greatest of all.
Pre-eminently typical of the first period is the “medallion window.” Glaziers began by naïvely accepting the iron bars across the light as the basis of their composition, and planned a window as a series of panels, one above the other, between the horizontal crossbars and the upright lines of the border round it. The next step was to mitigate the extreme severity of this composition by the introduction of a circular or other medallion within the square boundary lines. Eventually these were abandoned altogether, the iron bars were shaped according to the pattern, and there was evolved the “medallion window,” in which the main divisions of the design are emphasized by the strong bands of iron round them. Medallions were invariably devoted to picturing scenes from Bible history or from the lives of the saints, set forth in the simplest and most straightforward manner, the figures all on one plane, and as far as possible clear-cut against a sapphire-blue or ruby-red ground. Scenery was not so much depicted as suggested. An arch or two did duty for architecture, any scrap of foliated ornament for landscape. Simplicity of silhouette was absolutely essential to the readableness of pictures on the small scale allowed by the medallion. As it is, they are so difficult to decipher, so confused and broken in effect, as to give rise (the radiating shape of “rose windows” aiding) to the misconception that the design of early glass is kaleidoscopic—which it is not. The intervals between subject medallions were filled in England (Canterbury) with scrollwork, in France (Chartres) more often with geometric diaper, in which last sometimes the red and blue merge into an unpleasant purple. Design on this small scale was obviously unsuited to distant windows. Clerestory lights were occupied by figures, sometimes on a gigantic scale, entirely occupying the window, except for the border and perhaps the slightest pretence of a niche. This arrangement lent itself to broad effects of colour. The drawing may be rude; at times the figures are grotesque; but the general impression is one of mysterious grandeur and solemnity.
The depth and intensity of colour in the windows so far described comes chiefly from the quality of the glass, but partly also from the fact that very little white or pale-coloured glass was used. It was not the custom at this period to dilute the colour of a rich window with white. If light was wanted they worked in white, enlivened, it might be, by colour. Strictly speaking, 13th-century glass was never colourless, but of a greenish tint, due to impurities in the sand, potash or other ingredients; it was of a horny consistency, too; but it is convenient to speak of all would-be-clear glass as “white.” The greyish windows in which it prevails are technically described as “in grisaille.” There are examples (Salisbury, Châlons, Bonlieu, Angers) of “plain glazing” in grisaille, in which the lead lines make very ingenious and beautiful pattern. In the more usual case of painted grisaille the lead lines still formed the groundwork of the design, though supplemented by foliated or other detail, boldly outlined in strong brown and emphasized by a background of cross-hatching. French grisaille was frequently all in white (Reims, St Jean-aux-Bois, Sens), English work was usually enlivened by bands and bosses of colour (Salisbury); but the general effect of the window was still grey and silvery, even though there might be distributed about it (the “five sisters,” York minster) a fair amount of coloured glass. The use of grisaille is sufficiently accounted for by considerations of economy and the desire to get light; but it was also in some sort a protest (witness the Cistercian interdict of 1134) against undue indulgence in the luxury of colour. At this stage of its development it was confined strictly to patternwork; figure subjects were always in colour. For all that, some of the most restful and entirely satisfying work of the 13th century was in grisaille (Salisbury, Chartres, Reims, &c.).
The second or Middle period of Gothic glass marks a stage between the work of the Early Gothic artist who thought out his design as glazing, and that of the later draughtsman who conceived it as something to be painted. It represents to many the period of greatest interest—probably because of its departure from the severity of Early work. It was the period of more naturalistic design; and a touch of nature is more easily appreciated than architectural fitness. Middle Gothic glass, halting as it does between the relatively rude mosaic of early times and the painter-like accomplishment of fully-developed glass painting, has not the salient merits of either. In the matter of tone also it is intermediate between the deep, rich, sober harmonies of Early windows and the lighter, brighter, gayer colouring of later glass. Now for the first time grisaille ornament and coloured figurework were introduced into the same window. And this was done in a very judicious way, in alternate bands of white and deep rich colour, binding together the long lights into which windows were by this time divided (chapter-house, York minster). A similar horizontal tendency of design is noticeable in windows in which the figures are enshrined under canopies, henceforth a feature in glass design. The pinnaclework falls into pronounced bands of brassy yellow between the tiers of figures (nave, York minster) and serves to correct the vertical lines of the masonry. Canopywork grew sometimes to such dimensions as quite to overpower the figure it was supposed to frame; but, then, the sense of scale was never a directing factor in Decorated design. A more interesting form of ornament is to be found in Germany, where it was a pleasing custom (Regensburg) to fill windows with conventional foliage without figurework. There is abundance of Middle Gothic glass in England (York, Wells, Ely, Oxford), but the best of it, such as the great East window at Gloucester cathedral, has features more characteristic of the 15th than of the 14th century.
The keynote of Late Gothic glass is brilliancy. It had a silvery quality. The 15th century was the period of white glass, which approached at last to colourlessness, and was employed in great profusion. Canopywork, more universal than ever, was represented almost entirely in white touched with yellow stain, but not in sufficient quantities to impair its silveriness. Whatever the banality of the idea of imitation stonework in glass, the effect of thus framing coloured pictures in delicate white is admirable: at last we have white and colour in perfect combination. Fifteenth-century figurework contains usually a large proportion of white glass; flesh tint is represented by white; there is white in the drapery; in short, there is always white enough in the figures to connect them with the canopywork and make the whole effect one. The preponderance of white will be better appreciated when it is stated that very often not a fifth or sixth part of the glass is coloured. It is no uncommon thing to find figures draped entirely in white with only a little colour in the background; and figurework all in grisaille upon a ground of white latticework is quite characteristic of Perpendicular glass.
One of the most typical forms of Late English Gothic canopy is where (York minster) its slender pinnacles fill the upper part of the window, and its solid base frames a picture in small of some episode in the history of the personage depicted as large as life above. A much less satisfactory continental practice was to enrich only the lower half of the window with stained glass and to make shift above (Munich) with “roundels” of plain white glass, the German equivalent for diamond latticework.
A sign of later times is the way pictures spread beyond the confines of a single light. This happened by degrees. At first the connexion between the figures in separate window openings was only in idea, as when a central figure of the crucified Christ was flanked by the Virgin and St John in the side lights. Then the arms of the cross would be carried through, or as it were behind, the mullions. The expansion to a picture right across the window was only a question of time. Not that the artist ventured as yet to disregard the architectural setting of his picture—that happened later on—but that he often composed it with such cunning reference to intervening stonework that it did not interfere with it. It has been argued that each separate light of a window ought to be complete in itself. On the other hand it has proved possible to make due acknowledgment of architectural conditions without cramping design in that way. There can be no doubt as to the variety and breadth of treatment gained by accepting the whole window as field for a design. And, when a number of lights go to make a window, it is the window, and no separate part of it, which is the main consideration.
By the end of the Gothic period, glass painters proceeded on an entirely different method from that of the 13th century. The designer of early days began with glazing: he thought in mosaic and leadwork; the lines he first drew were the lines of glazing; painting was only a supplementary process, enabling him to get what lead lines would not give. The Late Gothic draughtsman began with the idea of painting; glazing was to him of secondary importance; he reached a stage (Creation window, Great Malvern) where it is clear that he first sketched out his design, and then bethought him how to glaze it in such wise that the leadwork (which once boldly outlined everything) should not interfere with the picture. The artful way in which he would introduce little bits of colour into a window almost entirely white, makes it certain that he had always at the back of his mind the consideration of the glazing to come. So long as he thought of that, and did not resent it, all was fairly well with glass painting, but there came a point where he found it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the extreme delicacy of his painting upon white glass with the comparatively brutal strength of his lead lines. It is here that the conditions of painting and glazing clash at last.
It must not be supposed that Late Gothic windows were never by any chance rich in colour. Local conservatism and personal predilection prevented anything like monotonous progress in a single direction. There is (St Sebald, Nuremberg) Middle Gothic glass as dense in colour as any 13th-century work, and Late Gothic (Troyes cathedral) which, from its colour, one might take at first to be a century earlier than it is. In Italy (Florence) and to some extent in Spain (Seville) it was the custom to make canopywork so rich in colour that it was more like part of the picture than a frame to it. But that was by exception. The tendency was towards lighter windows. Glass itself was less deeply stained when painters depended more upon their power of deepening it by paint. It was the seeking after delicate effects of painting, quite as much as the desire to let light into the church, which determined the tone of later windows. The clearer the glass the more scope it gave for painting.
It is convenient to draw a line between Gothic art and Renaissance. Nothing is easier than to say that windows in which crocketed canopywork occurs are Gothic, and that those with arabesque are Renaissance. But that is an arbitrary distinction, which does not really distinguish. Some of the most beautiful work in glass, such for example as that at Auch, is so plainly intermediate between two styles that it is impossible to describe it as anything but “transitional.” And, apart from particular instances, we have only to look at the best Late Gothic work to see that it is informed by the new spirit, and at fine Renaissance glass to observe how it conforms to Gothic traditions of workmanship. The new idea gave a spurt to Gothic art; and it was Gothic impetus which carried Renaissance glass painting to the summit of accomplishment reached in the first half of the 16th century. When that subsided, and the pictorial spirit of the age at last prevailed, the bright days of glass were at an end. If we have to refer to the early Renaissance as the culminating period of glass painting, it is because the technique of an earlier period found in it freer and fuller expression. With the Renaissance, design broke free from the restraints of tradition.
An interesting development of Renaissance design was the framing of pictures in golden-yellow arabesque ornament, scarcely architectural enough to be called canopywork, and reminiscent rather of beaten goldsmith’s work than of stone carving. This did for the glass picture what a gilt frame does for a painting in oil. Very often framework of any kind was dispensed with. The primitive idea of accepting bars and mullions as boundaries of design, and filling the compartments formed by them with a medley of little subjects, lingered on. The result was delightfully broken colour, but inevitable confusion; for iron and masonry do not effectively separate glass pictures. There was no longer in late glass any pretence of preserving the plane of the window. It was commonly designed to suggest that one saw out of it. Throughout the period of the Renaissance, architectural and landscape backgrounds play an important part in design. An extremely beautiful feature in early 16th-century French glass pictures (Rouen, &c.) is the little peep of distant country delicately painted upon the pale-blue glass which represents the sky. In larger work landscape and architecture were commonly painted upon white (King’s College, Cambridge). The landscape effect was always happiest when one or other of these conventions was adopted. Canopywork never went quite out of fashion. For a long while the plan was still to frame coloured pictures in white. Theoretically this is no less effectually to be done by Italian than by Gothic shrinework. Practically the architectural setting assumed in the 16th century more and more the aspect of background to the figures, and, in order that it should take its place in the picture, they painted it so heavily that it no longer told as white. Already in van Orley’s magnificent transept windows at St Gudule, Brussels, the great triumphal arch behind the kneeling donors and their patron saints (in late glass donors take more and more the place of holy personages) tells dark against the clear ground. There came a time, towards the end of the century, when, as in the wonderful windows at Gouda, the very quality of white glass is lost in heavily painted shadow.
The pictorial ambition of the glass painter, active from the first, was kept for centuries within the bounds of decoration. Medallion subjects were framed in ornament, standing figures in canopywork, and pictures were conceived with regard to the window and its place in architecture. Severity of treatment in design may have been due more to the limitations of technique than to restraint on the part of the painter. The point is that it led to unsurpassed results. It was by absolute reliance upon the depth and brilliancy of self-coloured glass that all the beautiful effects of early glass were obtained. We need not compare early mosaic with later painted glass; each was in its way admirable; but the early manner is the more peculiar to glass, if not the more proper to it. The ruder and more archaic design gives in fullest measure the glory of glass—for the loss of which no quality of painting ever got in glass quite makes amends. The pictorial effects compatible with glass design are those which go with pure, brilliant and translucent colour. The ideal of a “primitive” Italian painter was more or less to be realized in glass: that of a Dutch realist was not. It is astonishing what glass painters did in the way of light and shade. But the fact remains that heavy painting obscured the glass, that shadows rendered in opaque surface-colour lacked translucency, and that in seeking before all things the effects of shadow and relief, glass painters of the 17th century fell short of the qualities on the one hand of glass and on the other of painting.
The course of glass painting was not so even as this general survey of its progress might seem to imply. It was quickened here, impeded there, by historic events. The art made a splendid start in France; but its development was stayed by the disasters of war, just when in England it was thriving under the Plantagenets. It revived again under Francis I. In Germany it was with the prosperity of the free cities of the Empire that glass painting prospered. In the Netherlands it blossomed out under the favour of Charles V. In the Swiss Confederacy its direction was determined by civil and domestic instead of church patronage. In most countries there were in different districts local schools of glass painting, each with some character of its own. To what extent design was affected by national temperament it is not easy to say. The marked divergence of the Flemish from the French treatment of glass in the 16th century is not entirely due to a preference on the one part for colour and on the other for light and shade, but is partly owing to the circumstance that, whilst in France design remained in the hands of craftsmen, whose trade was glass painting, in the Netherlands it was entrusted by the emperor to his court painter, who concerned himself as little as possible with a technique of which he knew nothing. If in France we come also upon the names of well-known artists, they seem, like Jean Cousin, to have been closely connected with glass painting: they designed so like glass painters that they might have begun their artistic career in the workshop.
The attribution of fine windows to famous artists should not be too readily accepted; for, though it is a foible of modern times to father whatever is noteworthy upon some great name, the masterpieces of medieval art are due to unknown craftsmen. In Italy, where glass painting was not much practised, and it seems to have been the custom either to import glass painters as they were wanted or to get work done abroad, it may well be that designs were supplied by artists more or less distinguished. Ghiberti and Donatello may have had a hand in the cartoons for the windows of the Duomo at Florence; but it is not to any sculptor that we can give the entire credit of design so absolutely in the spirit of colour decoration. The employment of artists not connected with glass design would go far to explain the great difference of Italian glass from that of other countries. The 14th-century work at Assisi is more correctly described as “Trecento” than as Gothic, and the “Quattrocento” windows at Florence are as different as could be from Perpendicular work. One compares them instinctively with Italian paintings, not with glass elsewhere. And so with the 15th-century Italian glass. The superb 16th-century windows of William of Marseilles at Arezzo, in which painting is carried to the furthest point possible short of sacrificing the pure quality of glass, are more according to contemporary French technique. Both French and Italian influence may be traced in Spanish glass (Avila, Barcelona, Burgos, Granada, Leon, Seville, Toledo). Some of it is said to have been executed in France. If so it must have been done to Spanish order. The coarse effectiveness of the design, the strength of the colour, the general robustness of the art, are characteristically Spanish; and nowhere this side of the Pyrenees do we find detail on a scale so enormous.
We have passed by, in following the progressive course of craftsmanship, some forms of design, peculiar to no one period but very characteristic of glass. The “quarry window,” barely referred to, its diamond-shaped or oblong panes painted, richly bordered, relieved by bosses of coloured ornament often heraldic, is of constant occurrence. Entire windows, too, were from first to last given up to heraldry. The “Jesse window” occurs in every style. According to the fashion of the time the “Stem of Jesse” burst out into conventional foliage, vine branches or arbitrary scrollwork. It appealed to the designer by the scope it gave for freedom of design. He found vent, again, for fantastic imagination in the representation of the “Last Judgment,” to which the west window was commonly devoted. And there are other schemes in which he delighted; but this is not the place to dwell upon them.
The glass of the 17th century does not count for much. Some of the best in England is the work of the Dutch van Linge family (Wadham and Balliol Colleges, Oxford). What glass painting came to in the 18th century is nowhere better to be seen than in the great west window of the ante-chapel at New College, Oxford. That is all Sir Joshua Reynolds and the best china painter of his day could do between them. The very idea of employing a china painter shows how entirely the art of the glass painter had died out.
It re-awoke in England with the Gothic revival of the 19th century; and the Gothic revival determined the direction modern glass should take. Early Victorian doings are interesting only as marking the steps of recovery (cf. the work of T. Willement in the choir of the Temple church; of Ward and Nixon, lately removed from the south transept of Westminster Abbey; of Wailes). Better things begin with the windows at Westminster inspired by A. C. Pugin, who exercised considerable influence over his contemporaries. John Powell (Hardman & Co.) was an able artist content to walk, even after that master’s death, reverently in his footsteps. Charles Winston, whose Hints on Glass Painting was the first real contribution towards the understanding of Gothic glass, and who, by the aid of the Powells (of Whitefriars) succeeded in getting something very like the texture and colour of old glass, was more learned in ancient ways of workmanship than appreciative of the art resulting from them. (He is responsible for the Munich glass in Glasgow cathedral.) So it was that, except for here and there a window entrusted by exception to W. Dyce, E. Poynter, D. G. Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown or E. Burne-Jones, glass, from the beginning of its recovery, fell into the hands of men with a strong bias towards archaeology. The architects foremost in the Gothic revival (W. Butterfield, Sir G. Scott, G. E. Street, &c.) were all inclined that way; and, as they had the placing of commissions for windows, they controlled the policy of glass painters. Designers were constrained to work in the pedantically archaeological manner prescribed by architectural fashion. Unwillingly as it may have been, they made mock-medieval windows, the interest in which died with the popular illusion about a Gothic revival. But they knew their trade; and when an artist like John Clayton (master of a whole school of later glass painters) took a window in hand (St Augustine’s, Kilburn; Truro cathedral; King’s College Chapel, Cambridge) the result was a work of art from which, tradework as it may in a sense be, we may gather what such men might have done had they been left free to follow their own artistic impulse. It is necessary to refer to this because it is generally supposed that whatever is best in recent glass is due to the romantic movement. The charms of Burne-Jones’s design and of William Morris’s colour, place the windows done by them among the triumphs of modern decorative art; but Morris was neither foremost in the reaction, nor quite such a master of the material he was working in as he showed himself in less exacting crafts. Other artists to be mentioned in connexion with glass design are: Clement Heaton, Bayne, N. H. J. Westlake and Henry Holiday, not to speak of a younger generation of able men.
Foreign work shows, as compared with English, a less just appreciation of glass, though the foremost draughtsmen of their day were enlisted for its design. In Germany, King Louis of Bavaria employed P. von Cornelius and W. von Kaulbach (Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne, Glasgow); in France the Bourbons employed J. A. D. Ingres, F. V. E. Delacroix, Vernet and J. H. Flandrin (Dreux); and the execution of their designs was entrusted to the most expert painters to be procured at Munich and Sèvres; but all to little effect. They either used pot-metal glass of poor quality, or relied upon enamel—with the result that their colour lacks the qualities of glass. Where it is not heavy with paint it is thin and crude. In Belgium happier results were obtained. In the chapel of the Holy Sacrament at Brussels there is one window by J. B. Capronnier not unworthy of the fine series by B. van Orley which it supplements. At the best, however, foreign artists failed to appreciate the quality of glass; they put better draughtsmanship into their windows than English designers of the mid-Victorian era, and painted them better; but they missed the glory of translucent colour.
Modern facilities of manufacture make possible many things which were hitherto out of the question. Enamel colours are richer; their range is extended; and it may be possible, with the improved kilns and greater chemical knowledge we possess, to make them hold permanently fast. It was years ago demonstrated at Sèvres how a picture may be painted in colours upon a sheet of plate-glass measuring 4 ft. by 21 ft. We are now no doubt in a position to produce windows painted on much larger sheets. But the results achieved, technically wonderful as they are, hardly warrant the waste of time and labour upon work so costly, so fragile, so lacking in the qualities of a picture on the one hand and of glass on the other.
In America, John la Farge, finding European material not dense enough, produced pot-metal more heavily charged with colour. This was wilfully streaked, mottled and quasi-accidentally varied; some of it was opalescent; much of it was more like agate or onyx than jewels. Other forms of American enterprise were: the making of glass in lumps, to be chipped into flakes; the ruckling it; the shaping it in a molten state, or the pulling it out of shape. It takes an artist of some reserve to make judicious use of glass like this. La Farge and L. C. Tiffany have turned it to beautiful account; but even they have put it to purposes more pictorial than it can properly fulfil. The design it calls for is a severely abstract form of ornament verging upon the barbaric.
There are remains of the earliest known glass: in France—at Le Mans, Chartres, Châlons-sur-Marne, Angers and Poitiers cathedrals, the abbey church of St Denis and at St Remi, Reims: in England—at York minster (fragments): in Germany—at Augsburg and Strassburg cathedrals: in Austria—in the cloisters of Heiligen Kreuz.
The following is a classified list of some of the most characteristic and important windows, omitting for the most part isolated examples, and giving by preference the names of churches where there is a fair amount of glass remaining; the country in which at each period the art throve best is put first.
|cathedrals.||Church of St Kunibert, Cologne|
|Ste Chapelle, Paris.
Church of St Jean-aux-Bois.
|Church of St Sebald, Nuremberg.||Évreux cathedral.|
Church of St Pierre, Chartres.
Cathedral and church of St Urbain, Troyes.
Church of Ste Radegonde, Poitiers.
Cathedral and church of St Ouen, Rouen.
|Church of Nieder Haslach.|
|Church of St Francis, Assisi.
Church of Or San Michele, Florence.
Church of S. Petronio, Bologna.
|New College, Oxford.
York, minster and other churches.
Great Malvern abbey.
Church of St Mary, Shrewsbury.
|Church of Notre Dame, Alençon.||Church of St Lorenz, Nuremberg.|
|The Duomo, Florence.||Toledo cathedral.|
The choir of the cathedral at Auch.
|Rouen.||Church of St Jacques
Church of St Martin
|Liége.||Lucerne and most of the other|
|Church of St Foy, Conches.
Church of St Gervais, Paris.
Church of St Étienne-du-Mont, Paris.
Church of St Martin, Montmorency.
Church of Écouen.
Church of St Étienne, Beauvais.
Church of St Nizier, Troyes.
Church of Brou, Bourg-en-Bresse.
The Château de Chantilly.
|King’s College chapel, Cambridge.
St George’s church, Hanover Square, London.
St Margaret’s church, Westminster.
|Certosa di Pavia.
Church of S. Petronio, Bologna.
Church of Sta Maria Novella, Florence.
|Groote Kirk, Gouda.
Choir of Brussels cathedral.
|Church of St Martin-ès-Vignes, Troyes.
Nave and transepts of Auch cathedral.
Of late years each country has been learning so much from the others that the newest effort is very much in one direction. It seems to be agreed that the art of the window-maker begins with glazing, that the all-needful thing is beautiful glass, that painting may be reduced to a minimum, and on occasion (thanks to new developments in the making of glass) dispensed with altogether. A tendency has developed itself in the direction not merely of mosaic, but of carrying the glazier’s art farther than has been done before and rendering landscapes and even figure subjects in unpainted glass. When, however, it comes to the representation of the human face, the limitations of simple lead-glazing are at once apparent. A possible way out of the difficulty was shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 by M. Tournel, who, by fusing together coloured tesserae on to larger pieces of colourless glass, anticipated the discovery of the already mentioned fragment of Byzantine mosaic now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. He may have seen or heard Of something of the sort. There would be no advantage in building up whole windows in this way; but for the rendering of the flesh and sundry minute details in a window for the most part heavily leaded, this fusing together of tesserae, and even of little pieces of glass cut carefully to shape, seems to supply the want of something more in keeping with severe mosaic glazing than painted flesh proves to be.
Glass painters are allowed to-day a freer hand than formerly. They are no longer exclusively engaged upon ecclesiastical work; domestic glass is an important industry; and a workman once comparatively exempt from pedantic control is not so easily restrained from self-expression. Moreover, the recognition of the artistic position of craftsmen in general makes it possible for a man to devote himself to glass without sinking to the rank of a mechanic; and artists begin to realize the scope glass offers them. What they lack as yet is experience in their craft, and perhaps due workmanlike respect for traditional ways of workmanship. When the old methods come to be superseded it will be only by new ones evolved out of them. At present the conditions of glass painting remain very much what they were. The supreme beauty of glass is still in the purity, the brilliancy, the translucency of its colour. To make the most of this the designer must be master of his trade. The test of window design is, now as ever, that it should have nothing to lose and everything to gain by execution in stained glass.
Bibliography.—Theophilus, Arts of the Middle Ages (London, 1847); Charles Winston, An Inquiry into the Difference of Style observable in Ancient Glass Painting, especially in England (Oxford, 1847), and Memoirs illustrative of the Art of Glass Painting (London, 1865); N. H. J. Westlake, A History of Design in Painted Glass (4 vols., London, 1881–1894); L. F. Day, Windows, A Book about Stained and Painted Glass (London, 1909), and Stained Glass (London, 1903); A. W. Franks, A Book of Ornamental Glazing Quarries (London, 1849); A Booke of Sundry Draughtes, principaly serving for Glasiers (London, 1615, reproduced 1900); F. G. Joyce, The Fairford Windows (coloured plates) (London, 1870); Divers Works of Early Masters in Ecclesiastical Decoration, edited by John Weale (2 vols., London, 1846); Ferdinand de Lasteyrie, Histoire de la peinture sur verre d’après ses monuments en France (2 vols., Paris, 1852), and Quelques mots sur la théorie de la peinture sur verre (Paris, 1853); L. Magne, Œuvre des peintres verriers français (2 vols., Paris, 1885); Viollet le Duc, “Vitrail,” vol. ix. of the Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture (Paris, 1868); O. Merson, “Les Vitraux,” Bibliothèque de l’enseignement des beaux-arts (Paris, 1895); E. Levy and J. B. Capronnier, Histoire de la peinture sur verre (coloured plates) (Brussels, 1860); Ottin, Le Vitrail, son histoire à travers les âges (Paris); Pierre le Vieil, L’Art de la peinture sur verre et de la vitrerie (Paris, 1774); C. Cahier and A. Martin, Vitraux peints de Bourges du XIII e siècle (2 vols., Paris, 1841–1844); S. Clement and A. Guitard, Vitraux du XIII e siècle de la cathédrale de Bourges (Bourges, 1900); M. A. Gessert, Geschichte der Glasmalerei in Deutschland und den Niederlanden, Frankreich, England, &c., von ihrem Ursprung bis auf die neueste Zeit (Tübingen and Stuttgart, 1839; also an English translation, London, 1851); F. Geiges, Der alte Fensterschmuck des Freiburger Münsters, 5 parts (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1902, &c.); A. Hafner, Chefs-d’œuvre de la peinture suisse sur verre (Berlin). (L. F. D.)