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The History and Mystique of Stained Glass

Date Added: October 19, 2010 06:36:07 PM



There has always been a mystery to glass: it is a form of matter with gas, liquid and solid state properties. It captures light and glows from within. It is a jewel like substance made from the most ordinary of materials: sand transformed by fire.

The origins of the first stained glass windows are lost in history. However, the Romans and Egyptians excelled at the manufacture of small stained glass objects. Stained glass windows as we know them appeared when substantial church building began. By the 10th century stained glass depictions of Christ and biblical scenes and saints were found in stained glass church windows. These window that depicted the life of Christ and many biblical stories were known as the poor man’s Bible. Very few citizens of the middle ages were literate, thus the stained glass church windows were the ordinary man’s reference to Christian themes.

The actual term “stained glass" referred to glass that had been colored by adding metallic salts during it’s manufacture. Adding copper oxide produced green glass; addition of cobalt produced blue; and the addition of gold yielded red. The term also refers to glass on which scenes and designs are actually painted. This method was popular in the 1500’s.

In England in the 1800’s several art historians and scientists rediscovered medieval glass techniques. Glass studios began making their versions of stained glass windows for public buildings, churches and residences of the wealthy . English immigrants, established the first stained glass studios in America in the late 19th century. Eventually, Comfort Louis Tiffany adapted the stained glass technique by the use of copper foil in the place of lead, to construct lampshades and capitalized on the new innovation of electric lighting. His designs were painstakingly, individually constructed and available only to the wealthiest of patrons of the day i.e. Vanderbilts, Astors and Rockefellers.

The Tiffany style and the Art Noveau movement of his day were popular through the turn of the century. Tastes changed, and except for church windows, stained glass was in decline until the post WWII era. Stained glass as an art and a craft has enjoyed a resurgence in the last 30 years. Today stained glass has evolved into window panels, stained glass fireplace screens, lamp shades, sun catchers and wind chimes. Given modern techniques of mass glass cutting, individual creations are more accessible to everyone today. The possibilities of stained glass art are limited only by the imagination of the craftsman.

To see examples of modern stained glass decor items visit: stained glass decor