Stained glass windows: What’s old is new again
Interest in the fashion surged in Europe and the US in the early 1800s, along with an appreciation for Gothic Revival architecture in Victorian churches — a trend which also extended to the homes built in this era.
In the early 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright triggered an interest with his modern-styled stained glass windows, and here again in the early 21st century, stained glass windows are trending in home design.
Have a look at this 1920s perspective on the art of stained glass windows and leaded glass windows! You will also see dozens of gorgeous design examples, showing styles popular for churches, and homes and businesses.
The origin of stained glass windows
From the Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana) March 26, 1924
The art of fitting together small pieces of glass into a pattern with a heavy lead binding about each piece is supposed to have developed about the eleventh century.
Glass-making back then was crude by today’s standard. Only small pieces of glass could be blown, and yet large windows were needed in large buildings, so lead came into extensive use to create a mosaic of glass.
The glass varied in texture and thickness and was far from being perfectly clear and white like modern glass.
Differences in lighting effects began to be noted, colored bits of glass were introduced, and interesting designs evolved. These leaded glass windows were brilliantly colorful and beautiful.
Vintage leaded art glass
In the following centuries, stained glass rose to the height of its artistic fame. Church windows showed dramatic scenes or religious symbols that recalled stories of the Bible and the lives of the saints. The windows were like a religious primer to those churchgoers who could not read.
But stained glass gradually fell from its place of high importance. In Queen Elizabeth’s time, an ordinance prohibited its use in English churches, and it was slowly replaced by plainer glass.
Stained glass windows were doomed by removal
Once removed from its setting, a window was generally doomed. It is said that much of the fine English glass was sent over to the continent and that it was hawked about France by peddlers of old clothes.
As a result, there is comparatively little of the early medieval glass left today. Viollet-le-Duc, French expert on architecture, said that not a single panel of colored glass authentically earlier than the twelfth century remains today.
Because of the loss of so many old windows, and the damaged condition of others — and because modern stained glass, even the best, is considerably different from the old — the tradition is current that the art of making stained glass is a lost secret. This is denied by modern experts.
What the work of the medieval masters was really like in the twelfth century we can only imagine, because time has wrought great changes in the glass.
Colors that must have been elementals and the best tints that the artists could get in their melting pot have become mellow and brilliant.
Cobwebs and disintegrating effects of the weather have softened harsh colors. Windows that arouse admiration now may not have been so beautiful when they were first set up to light the old chapels and cathedrals.
Modern makers of stained glass windows are skilled
Critics say that the modern glass worker can produce any color that the medieval craftsman knew and many others that were quite beyond his skill. Moreover, Viollet-le-Duc defended the modern artist’s technique.
“Our most able workers,” he says, “have made at times excellent copies; they have completed ancient windows with such a perfection of imitation that one can not distinguish the restorations from the old part.
“They have been able to recognize the remarkable qualities of the ancient windows in point of’ decorative effect and harmony, the perfection and skill of the workers, and to appreciate how admirably the style of these masters was fitted to this object. The art of the stained glass worker can not then be a mystery or a lost secret.”
Evolution of a new kind of stained glass
It is true that for several centuries after stained glass fell into disuse, attempts to reintroduce it were mostly failures.
But about 50 years ago, a few American artists began to evolve a new kind of stained glass art modern processes and colors. Some of the American glass has won praise from experts.
On the other hand, there is a great deal of glass in America which is far from artistic. Many of the picture windows, for instance. do not conform to ideals of what is most attractive in stained glass.
Mention of a few of the standards which still obtain will indicate what is good and bad in this unusual art.
In the first place, the purpose of a window is to admit light and the old stained glass took account of this. It aimed to admit light in the most beautiful and decorative way.
The medieval artists knew that colored glass and lead are simple materials and that painting over glass leaves it less luminous, and so when they attempted to depict human figures and scenes they did not try to achieve faithful realism.
When a window is burdened with perspective and detailed realism, it lacks the simplicity of design and color of the early windows and the charm of colored light is lessened.
Another point is that some modern stained glass windows fall short of the medieval, standards because they are not in keeping with the architecture of the building in which they are placed.
The windows theoretically are a part of a church no less than the doorway of the choir loft. In shape, design, and treatment, they should fit in with the architectural scheme.
Because of this principle, architects may not give hearty approval to the project of flood-lighting stained glass, one architect in this city believes that special lighting devices would tend to overemphasize a window beyond its due importance. It would become the feature of the edifice rather than a harmonious part of the entire design.
More vintage stained glass and leaded glass designs and patterns from the 1920s
Then, too, a window lighted by the steady, even flow of light from a powerful arc lamp would be less intriguing than a window that is played upon by shifting sunlight and shadows.
Whether a window flood-lighted by impersonal rays of electricity loses very much of its artistic quality is something for architects and lighting experts to battle over. Meanwhile, the project of lighting stained glass windows is bringing the glass, art into greater prominence than it has enjoyed for some time.
More stained glass windows from the International Art Glass Catalog for churches (1924)
Stained glass for homes, from the 1910s
The images below are all from the vintage Sears special catalog for home builders.
HIGHEST CLASS ART GLASS FOR DOORS AND WINDOWS
RICH AND HANDSOME DESIGNS appropriate for dining room, front hall light, staircase light, interior and exterior door lights and windows.
THESE DESIGNS ARE HIGH CLASS in every sense of the word. They are made of carefully selected colored glass, as per illustrations, bringing out strong and harmonious effects.
Such designs as these are sure to beautify your house when viewed from the street and add a tone of refinement and an added comfort and coziness to the interior, due to the beautiful effects produced by the light passing through these artistic color arrangements, such as are illustrated on this page.
The various pieces of colored glass are firmly held in place by leaded metal bars made of non-corrosive metal which will not rust or corrode when subjected to the weather.
Latest designs in l’Art Nouveau leaded glass
Vintage 1910s Venetian and leaded art glass
STRICTLY NEW DESIGNS. Beautiful colors, exactly like illustrations. Show them to your architect or contractor, he knows the designs are correct and the prices are extremely low. You will appreciate them when you get them.
Made of carefully selected colored glass and securely held in place by leaded bars made of non-corrosive metal and which will not rust or corrode when subjected to the weather. THESE DESIGNS ARE SUITABLE FOR WINDOWS of every description, door lights, transom lights, etc.
High-class l’art nouveau and Venetian glass
NEW CREATIONS, exceptionally new and attractive designs. Make your selection. They are all pretty and are excellent values, just about one-half regular prices, in many instances considerably less than half. While these patterns are inexpensive they will add wonderfully to the value of the house.
These leaded glass windows, such as we show on this and the following pages, add tone and refinement when viewed from the exterior, while the soft and delicate colors add comfort and coziness to the interior, as well as enriching its beauty a hundredfold.