Enriching architecture: stained glass windows | ArchDaily


Enriching architecture: stained glass windows

Essentially associated with places of worship, stained glass has been used by artisans around the world for thousands of years in a range of businesses and art installations. Intensifying architecture with vivid colors, the process of stained glass refers to a particular action in which glass has been colored via metal oxides during its manufactureusing different additives to create a range of tints and tones.

In terms of architectural enhancement, stained glass is often assembled in order to produce representations of decorative art, allowing light to filter through and penetrate a particular structure or building. As a component, it is both decorative and a variety of windows, allowing a substantial and sufficient amount of light into a space, for atmospheric and beneficial effect.

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Sens Cathedral (13th century). Image courtesy of Pmrmaeyaert / WikiCommons CC BY-SA 4.0

The origins of the application of stained glass in architecture date back to the 7th centuryas it began to adorn religious structures, including churches, abbeys and convents, with St Paul’s Monastery in Jarrow being once one of the earliest known examples according to excavations. By the 8th century, the use of stained glass was established to adorn elements of ornate Islamic architecture, including mosques and palaces, with flourishing glass industries in Syria, Egypt, Iran and Iraq.


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Nasir ol Molk Mosque, Iran. Image courtesy of Ayyoubsabawiki / WikiCommons CC BY-SA 4.0

In the Middle Ages these stained glass windows were found on countless churches across Europe, simple in shape until around the 12th century, the stained glass windows became much more splendorous during the Gothic period, as architecture has become more attentive to height and light. Monumental in size, these Gothic windows, including rose windows and arched lancet windows, were more decorative in nature, able to support more intricate glass work and let in much more light.

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York Minster (14th century). Image courtesy of Peter K Burian / WikiCommons CC BY-SA 4.0

Characterized by its solid nature, the presence of columns and its dominant aspect, Romanesque architecture often used stained glass to depict individuals in action, with a series of events associated with the Bible encased in medallions. Originating from a more primitive variation of stained glass, the style primarily used red and blue hues. Unfortunately, over time, many have been lost and few remain. Chartres Cathedral (1252) in France, built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles present some of the most important examples of Romanesque stained glass in Francefeaturing color animated depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary, best viewed at sunset, as warm light illuminates the figures with a spiritual vibe.

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Romanesque stained glass windows, Strasbourg Cathedral. Image courtesy of Rama/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 2.0

After the Romanesque period, the Gothic period announces the formation of new religious orders signifying many churches and cathedrals were built, as patronized by the medieval church. This kick of development launched the evolution of representations in stained glass, moving from simple figures to complex iconography. Some examples include the stained glass window seen at York Minster (XIV c.), Wells Cathedral (14th c.) and Sens Cathedral (13th century).

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Renaissance Roundel in Stained Glass. Image courtesy of WikiCommons

The Renaissance age offered a different view of the use of stained glass in architecture. While remaining primarily biblical in nature, stained glass was also used in secular buildings, including town halls and even in residential buildings. Panels with silver stain and paint were often used on white glass, applied to clear glass windows in homes, with ‘Labours of the Seasons’ and historical scenes being a popular theme of this period. Representations of people have become more emotive and perspectives have become more accurate.

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Neo-Gothic (19th century) . Image courtesy of Reinhardhauke / WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0

loss of popularity, stained glass began to fall out of favor in the late Middle Ages and the 19th century. With the Catholic Church being the main patron of the arts, the wave of new Protestants was not fond of more elaborate settings, clamoring for simpler, no-frills buildings. Puritan groups and the English parliament have sought to remove images of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity resulting in the destruction of many stained glass windows. The destruction eventually came to a halt due to the very cost of replacing colored glass with more ordinary clear counterparts.

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Art Nouveau stained glass windows (1904). Image courtesy of line1/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 3.0

As the fascination with the Gothic style of the medieval period came back into fashion in the form of the Gothic Revival around 1740, many wealthy individuals had castles built corresponding to the structures described in the Gothic novels. Strawberry Hill Mansion (1717-1797) in London features elements of surviving medieval stained glass, restored and installed for Horace Walpole, an avid collector of the art form. Few others have maintained their interest in the technique, collecting pieces that are on display in museums today. As stained glass began to reappear in circulation, many English businesses presented stained glass at the major Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851.

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Mackintosh window (20th century). Image courtesy of Tony Hisgett / WikiCommons CC BY-SA 2.0

The popularity of neo-Gothic led to the construction of a large number of new churches, filled with eye-catching and evocative colored glass. Reviving medieval techniques of glass production, they became widespread, widely used by artists using the style. In the 19th century, the American Arts and Crafts movement sought to transform the art of stained glass into a modern art form, with artists like Frank Lloyd Wright uses stained glass elements as an integral part of the interiors of Wright’s Prairie Schoolcreating windows with unique art exhibits found nowhere else.

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The abstraction of stained glass (20th century). Image courtesy of WikiCommons

During the twentieth century, both Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau featured a lot of stained glass amongst the furniture and interior decor. Contemporary stained glass continues to re-enact the ancient art of stained glass making, using this feature to continue to enhance elements of today’s architecture. Despite lesser demand for stained glass to decorate churches these days, they continue to be made for religious and secular buildings, as part of conservation efforts and flamboyant new design proposals.

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