from the beginning...


To fully understand the role which stained glass occupies in the life of mankind, you have to trace its history. We will show you how this kind of art originated and developed, we will have a look at stained glass studios and workshops of the past. And you will see for yourself that tradition of decorating buildings with stained glass windows originated in the Middle Ages.

The word “stained glass” comes from the French vitrage, vitrum (glass, window, window pane). We know that for the first time ever stained glass appeared in the windows of the 11th century cathedral in city Augsburg located in Germany. Some of it has survived till our time. An old stained glass can be seen as well in the French town of Chartres and English Cathedrals of Canterbury and York. The art of stained glass indeed flourished in 13th-14th century. But with the increasing influence of the Protestant Church stained glass windows were being ruthlessly destroyed, as some Protestants did not appreciate stained glass, considering it too fancy. Not only stained glass in churches was destroyed, but whole glass workshops, and even factories were demolished. Thus many glass making techniques were simply forgotten for a long time.

Stained glass Notre-Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathedral in Chartres (France) 1150 A.D.

Stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral 1205-1235 A.D.

The art of stained glass experienced a revival in the 19th century under the lead of William Morris, who managed to reveal the secrets of making and painting glass. William Morris is the author of fiction novels, designer and patron of artists. A workshop “Morris and Co” was organized owing to him, which had a significant impact on book design, artistic textiles, furniture and decorative stained glass. One of the most famous works accomplished by William Morris and co-authored by Edward Burne-Jones, was a series of stained glass windows in the church of the Holy Trinity in Boston.

Stained Glass “Nativity” in Epiphany Chapel in Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire. Designed by Edward Burne-Jones and executed in the studio of William Morris.

From that time a new life of stained glass art began. Many artists have assisted the revival of stained glass. The most famous of them: Edward Burne-Jones, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Clayton, Heaton, Butler Bains, Wailes, Berlison, Hrilz and others. There were even family enterprises working at production of glass. The most famous was the Gibbs family. But unlike medieval craftsmen, glass workshops received orders not only from churches but also from private customers to decorate their homes. London studio glass works “Clayton and Bell” was the most prosperous in the second half of the 19th century. It commissioned even for the Queen Victoria and was entitled the Court Stained Glass Studio. Works by this studio can be found throughout England till our time. The most famous of them is a large stained glass window in the Western Church at Cambridge and stained glass window in the east of the church in Bath Abbey. Works of “Clayton and Bell” could be traced as well in the USA.

An American Louis Comfort Tiffany invented a new kind of stained glass and improved ways of connecting coloured glass: at first edges were wrapped in adhesive copper foil, and then joined by tin. The new technology of soldering called “Tiffany” allowed very small pieces of glass to be joined together, it helped to make stained glass even more sophisticated and use it for small products. Over time an interest increases in decorative arts like Art Deco (art deco), vegetative-ornamental compositions, abstract stylized scenes, geometric patterns, ethnic ornaments. That period is a true flowering of stained glass art and crafts. A stained-glass window becomes an integral part of almost every architectural ensemble at that time; scenes were often multi figured at ornamental background composition of plants and architectural elements.

Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass “Autumn Landscape” 1923-1924, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Manhattan, NY, USA)

In the 20th century famous masters of glass works were Christopher Wall, Mary Laundes, Sarah Perser, Alfred Child, Ivy Hawn, Harry Clark. Sarah Perser Workshop was founded in 1903 in Dublin and became the centre of stained glass art in Ireland. It was in this studio that famous stained glass masters Ivy Hawn, Harry Clark, Wilhelmina Heads and Michael Healy worked. Women equally to men create complicated and beautiful stained glass compositions.

Stained glass in the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Dublin, by Sarah Perser, 1906, Image of King Cormac mac Cuilennáin

In the early 20th century a new architectural style began to develop. Its characteristics were functionally designed forms. The founder of this style was Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the first to use stained glass as walls/panels inside the room, breaking the stereotype that stained glass can be used only in window openings. For his stained glass crafts he almost did not use any coloured glass. His idea spread throughout European workshops manufacturing stained glass, and soon it started a new trend among artists of stained glass who liked a fundamentally new concept of using stained glass to change the shape and layout of the room.

Two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century caused tremendous damage to stained glass of ancient cathedrals and churches. Many medieval stained-glass windows were destroyed forever. The best masters of stained glass art were invited by churches to restore loses. But not all workshops were willing to restore precisely what was lost. For example, Studio of Jean Hebert Stephen presented completely new stained glass windows for Church of Oscar de Dumont, not resembling those that adorned the building before the war. The result of their work was a new interpretation of images on biblical themes in the stained glass windows. Many artists and customers did not accept the work of the studio, but thus a new trend in the art of stained glass appeared, known as “stained glass artists-modernists.” A famous painter Marc Chagall applied widely abstract art in his stained glass of religious themes. The most famous of his works were 12 glass panels for Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem.

Since Judaism forbids drawing people Chagall used the images of animals, endowing them with human traits.

It is impossible not to mention one of the most distinctive modernist artists – Mary Alphonse Muha a Czech designer, illustrator, theatre artist. His graceful works are memorable by their plasticity of vegetative-scenic ornaments, elegance of female postures, integrity and unity of concept. In 1931, Muha designed stained-glass windows for Cathedral in Prague, where his artistic versatility was fully manifested.

Alphonse Muha. Stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague 1931

After the World War II an abstract style which combines a monumental and symbolic imagery began to develop. Composition of stained glass is not created by the colour of glass but by the division of tin soldering. Nowadays Monumentalism, Symbolism and Minimalism prevail in the art so that modern stained glass resembles an abstract colour scheme more and more.

In the 20th century there at once appeared several trends. Some of them called after the names of their founders, such as “Tiffany” stained glass, or after technological process engaged, like “Fuzzing” (sintering), Film stained glass or (Pseudo stained glass). As a whole stained glass art has firmly taken its niche in decoration of buildings and individual dwellings. It bravely enters every house, decorating the inner world of a living space, bringing joy to people!