History of Stained Glass - The Stained Glass Association of America (2022)

The English admiration for the medieval period is embodied in literature such Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Goethe’s Faust, Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King, and as Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The wealthy built castles for themselves modeled on those described in the Gothic novels. As early as the 1740s, Horace Walpole collected medieval stained glass and employed one of the few stained glass craftsmen left in England, William Price, to restore it and install it in his fashionable Gothic mansion, Strawberry Hill. Many windows were sent to England from the continent. A few enthusiasts kept their interest in medieval stained glass and assiduously collected pieces being discarded that would otherwise have been lost. Some of these panels are in museums today, in better shape than if they had remained in situ. In 1802, an exhibition held in London consisted of glass that was saved from the French Revolution.

Since colored glass had gone out of fashion, little was made and the quality was generally poor. When the British studios became interested in restoring antique glass and providing new stained glass for Neo-Gothic churches, there was almost no appropriate glass. The person who is most credited with rectifying this situation was not a stained glass man at all, but a lawyer, Charles Winston. Stained glass was his hobby. He wrote a book containing his faithful drawings of medieval stained glass. His book included a translation of the monk Theophilus’ description of the process of creating stained glass. In 1849, he had fragments of beautiful old glass chemically analyzed and encouraged James Powell and Sons, Whitefriars Glassworks, to produce excellent colored glass. William Edward Chance also began experimenting with colored glass at that time, and in 1863, succeeded in producing an excellent red.

Although Winston’s book was about medieval stained glass, he also appreciated the pictorial style windows such as were being made in Germany in his own day. He was opposed in this opinion by Pugin and his followers.

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, was the architect who, almost single-handedly, established the Gothic style as the only viable ecclesiastical architecture. He started to build his first church in 1837. He then wrote Contrasts in which he stated that the classic style was pagan and unsuitable for the buildings of a Christian nation.

He thought the Gothic style to be both more desirable aesthetically and more moral. Pugin also designed stained glass windows. Various studios fabricated his windows, most often John Hardman of Birmingham. At the time, the revival Oxford Movement (within the Church of England) aimed at restoring high church ideals. This was evidenced by increased elaboration of both worship services and the church buildings in which the liturgy was conducted. Demand for stained glass quickly increased. The Cambridge Camden Society published a magazine, The Ecclesiologist, which circulated Gothic architectural principles.

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Well before Pugin’s early death in 1852, other architects were taking up Gothic revival styles. Stained glass again contained flat decorative designs and lead lines that outlined and separated colors. Important studios and craftsmen were Thomas Willement, J.H. Miller, Betton and Evans of Shrewsbury, John Hardman, and William Wailes.

Twenty-five English firms showed stained glass at the great Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851. It is sometimes difficult to trace the studios that made the windows of this period. Parish records tell the donors more readily than the makers.

Other notable studios begun in this period include Burlington and Grylls, 1868; Clayton and Bell, 1855; Gibbs, founded 1813, stained glass production started 1848; Heaton, Butler and Bayne, 1855; Lavers, Barraud and Westlake, 1855; Shrigley and Hunt, 1875; James Powell and Sons, makers of glass since the 17th century, began production of stained glass 1844; Ward and Nixon, later Ward and Hughes, 1836. William Warrington started a stained glass business in 1833, but went out of business in 1875. The others continued well into the 20th century.

Many of these English studios still in business during World War II lost their archives either as a result of bombing or because they gave them up for pulp to make new paper. English magazines record that some firms had employed over 100 men. They may have done other decorating work in addition to stained glass. Their work is still treasured today. Some of its characteristics are flat treatment even in scenic windows, greenish white flesh, delicate painting, quarried backgrounds with a decorative silver stained motif in each pane, graceful architectural framing (canopy) or borders and liberal use of silver stain.

A change in the philosophical climate was taking place in England and the world. In 1854, F.D. Maurice founded the Workingmen’s College in London’s East End. John Ruskin taught an evening course in drawing and design, and encouraged others to teach there also. When he was young, Ruskin often visited a friend, Charles Milnes Gaskell, who lived in a medieval priory. This probably awakened his admiration for medieval art and architecture.

Ruskin so loved the priory that he supposed the workmen who created it had been happy. He widely promulgated Pugin’s view about the morality of Gothic style. He wrote Fors Clavigera (Fortune the Nail Bearer), A Series of Letters to the Workmen and Laborers of Great Britain. It was never read much by those for whom it was written, but it influenced British socialism to a Christian rather than an atheistic basis like Marx’s.

William Morris’ philosophy was also socialistic. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones went to Oxford in 1853 intending to become clergymen, but as the impetus of the Oxford Movement was then diminishing, they took up art. Ruskin and Morris would influence arts and crafts movements world wide

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In 1857 William Morris, then a young man of 23, took part in the painting of the Oxford Union frescoes which depict King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Characteristically, he felt he could not portray knights in armor unless he had experienced the feeling of wearing armor; he had a helmet and a suit of mail made to his own design by a surprised Oxford blacksmith. To the delight of his friends he insisted on wearing the suit to a dinner party and succeeded in getting his head stuck in the helmet.

Morris soon realized his talent was not as a fine arts painter. The firm of Morris, Marshall and Faulkner was founded in 1861 because Morris could not find appropriate furnishings for the new home just built for him by Philip Webb. While the firm was a decorating company, stained glass was prominent from the first.

Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown had some previous experience designing for stained glass, but at first, the group knew little about fabricating. Their first designs were produced as a joint effort. Burne-Jones was a master of line and composition. Morris, a less expert draughtsman, was unmatched at selecting color, so they complemented each other’s skills. The glaziers put the lead lines in the cartoons. Ultimately, they employed over a dozen craftsmen who also did decorating work. Their wives and sisters were pressed into helping, especially painting tiles and executing embroidery.

In 1857, the original firm dissolved and the company was completely under Morris’ control. Burne-Jones and Webb stayed on. As Morris’ share of the actual work diminished, Burne-Jones was deluged with work. He accomplished a number of paintings as well as his work for the company. Evidence in their account books derived from payments made to photographers indicates that they began to use photographic enlargements of small sketches and repeated the same designs over and over. Morris died in 1896 and Burne-Jones in 1898.

The company continued under John Henry Dearle, who had worked with Burne-Jones for many years as chief designer. Morris and Burne-Jones were so opposed to copying medieval styles that they would not accept any commissions supplying windows for old churches. Although most of their stained glass was done for churches, they also did secular installations since they provided complete decorating schemes. Favorite secular subjects were illustrations of medieval romances and ladies personifying virtues, the seasons and the arts, especially music.

Ford Madox Brown designed a series of accurate historical portrait figures for Peterhouse, Cambridge University. While Brown and Morris were interested in medieval subjects, their style was uniquely their own, noble figures in classically inspired drapery on Morris’ leafy backgrounds or energetic flatly painted illustrations

Many stained glass artists were influenced by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, including Henry Holiday, at first exclusively a designer, he set up his own studio in 1891; Charles Eamer Kempe, who set up a studio in 1869; and Christopher W. Whall, who founded a studio in 1897.

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Scotland also occupies a conspicuous role in the Gothic revival. Its style was different from the English. It was centered in Glasgow, which retains a greater proportion of its nineteenth century church and domestic glass than any other city in the British Isles. The People’s Palace, a museum, has a large, permanent collection.

Ballantine and Allen founded their firm in 1837. Ballantine learned the trade in England. Francis Wilson Oliphant designed for Wailes and fabricated for Pugin. He published a small volume on stained glass in 1854, earlier than Winston’s. Other studios were William Cairney and Sons, 1828; Hugh Boyle and Company, 1850; David Kier and Sons, 1847.

Kier was master glazier to the Glasgow Cathedral when it ordered windows from Munich on Winston’s recommendation and caused an uproar. Kier copied the Munich style.

Daniel Cottier was born in Glasgow and apprenticed to Kier in the 1850s. He went to London and enrolled in F.D. Maurice’s Workingmen’s College where he heard lectures by Ruskin, Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. He returned to Scotland as a designer for Field and Allan of Leith. He set up his own studio for decorating in 1865.

In 1867, Cottier moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow. In 1869, he moved to London to open a branch, leaving his assistant, Andrew Wells in Scotland. Cottier’s style was greatly influenced by Morris. He founded Australian and American branches in 1873 and imported and dealt in French and Dutch art and furniture.

J. and W. Guthrie founded a decorating studio in 1860 which grew to prominence after Wells moved to Australia for Cottier, leaving them its work. John Guthrie moved to London to operate a branch studio while William Guthrie stayed in Scotland. They employed C.W. Whall in 1890 and Charles Rennie Mackintosh about 1893 to produce decorative schemes and what are now Mackintosh’s earliest identifiable designs for stained glass.

The Glasgow School of Art became an important factor in the cultural life of the city. When Fra Newberry became its director in 1885, he introduced decorative arts to supplement the conventional easel painting. Mackintosh attended the school from 1885. He was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Japanese, but is not thought to have been very dependent on any outside influences.

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George Walton got the first commission for Miss Cranston’s Tea Rooms, which he designed with Mackintosh. James Herbert MacNair and Mackintosh married the two MacDonald sisters, also artists. Mackintosh was an architect, but made himself responsible for the decoration of his buildings. His windows were in abstract patterns. His designs were published, and influenced the Vienna Secession school of art nouveau.

Charles E. Stewart, son of a stained glass craftsman, invented a “cameo process.” Instead of glass painting, heads and hands were cut and etched. In 1903 this was supplanted by the invention of acid etching, developed from the chemical isolation of fluoride in 1886.

An Irish stained glass craftsman, Michael O’Connor won a gold medal in the Exhibition International in Kensington, London, 1862. He was a heraldic painter from Dublin who moved to London in 1823 to study with Willement. He returned to set up his own studio in Dublin and moved in 1842 to Bristol, then in 1845, to London. Near the end of the nineteenth century, Edward Martyn ordered a stained glass window from Christopher Whall for his family’s church at Ardrahan, Ireland.

Martyn, who had founded the Palestrina Choir and the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, was interested in starting an Irish school of stained glass. He wrote, “If we are determined to have bad work, it is better to have it bad Irish than foreign.” He arranged for three windows in the new Cathedral of Loughrea to be executed by Whall in Ireland using Irish craftsmen. Whall was not able to stay continuously supervising the work in Ireland, so in 1901, he sent his chief assistant A.E.Child and two glaziers.

Child and Sarah Purser, a portrait painter who had become interested in the project, then set up a stained glass department in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. The students helped in the execution of the Loughrea windows. In 1903, Sarah Purser and Edward Martyn organized An Tur Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a cooperative workshop for stained glass, mosaics and other related crafts. Purser ran the business until her death at the age of 94 in 1943, at which time, Catherine O’Brien took over the ownership.

Harry Clarke was the only Irish stained glass artist of the time not associated with An Tur Gloine. When Clarke was young, Irish stained glass was poor and usually ordered from pattern books. When A.E. Child began to teach at the Metropolitan School of Art, Clarke became one of his students at night while working by day in his father’s decorating business. He won a traveling scholarship and visited French cathedrals. A series of windows depicting Irish saints for Cork University’s Honan Hostel Chapel established his reputation. He is also well known for his book illustrations. At his father’s death, he and his brother continued the business. Clarke’s designs are mystical, otherworldly and opulently detailed. There is nothing else like them. Considering that Clarke died of tuberculosis at the age of 42, he accomplished a large body of work, mostly based on themes from Irish literature.


What is the history of stained glass? ›

Stained glass has been used for thousands of years, beginning with the Ancient Romans and Egyptians, who produced small objects made from coloured glass. Stained glass windows in Britain can be traced back to the 7th century, with some early examples found in churches and monasteries.

What is the history of stained glass windows in churches? ›

Basically, stained glass windows developed as a theologically important art form– a way to convey to the masses things the church wanted them to see, think about, and understand, including Christ's death on the cross, His resurrection and then some.

How can you tell if stained glass is valuable? ›

Other factors that go into determining the value of stained glass windows include their age (older ones are worth more than newer ones, generally), glass sizes (the smaller the pieces used, the higher the value since smaller pieces require more glass cutting and lead), and what the glass might contain– figures, ...

What was the original purpose of stained glass windows? ›

In this context, the purpose of a stained glass window is not to allow those within a building to see the world outside or even primarily to admit light but rather to control it. For this reason stained glass windows have been described as "illuminated wall decorations".

What was the purpose of stained glass? ›

Onward from the medieval ages, the use of stained glass had a dual purpose: to create religious images and to highlight the wealth of those who owned the building or were the patron of the art.

How can you tell how old stained glass is? ›

Search public records for the date construction of the building began and the date it was completed. You may be able to find the name of the artist and designer of the stained glass windows in the records, including the fabricating studio and the date the windows were installed.

Where are the oldest stained glass windows? ›

The oldest known stained glass windows are those at Augsburg Cathedral in Bavaria, Germany, completed in the late 11th century.

How old is the oldest stained glass window? ›

The oldest surviving glass windows still in situ are thought to be the Prophet Windows in Augsburg Cathedral, of c. 1065.

Are old stained glass windows worth money? ›

Vintage or antique stained glass can be appraised anywhere from $2000 to $100,000. For more prestigious stained glass, like Tiffany, these windows can be values from $25,000 to $150,000.

Do they still use lead in stained glass? ›

Though lead paint has been done away with for decades now, lead is still used in the production of stained glass.

How can you tell if a stained glass window is Tiffany? ›

While most other windows of the day mimicked the flat, highly stylized look of the examples found in medieval churches, a typical Tiffany window featured three-dimensional-looking figures and objects, many of them placed in landscapes that seem to recede in space.

Why do Catholic churches have stained glass windows? ›

Indeed, stained glass windows are utilized in Catholic churches to help bridge the gap between the earthly and the divine. Offering viewers an ethereal experience of color and light, this glass remains beloved even centuries after first installed!

What do you call a stained glass artist? ›

Stained glass artists create stained glass designs & artworks. They prepare the working drawing, prepare glaze for fabrication into decorative windows, art objects and decorative articles. They cut glass pieces to the patterns, wax pieces into place, paint artwork on glass and assemble.

What are stained glass windows called? ›

It is often called cathedral glass, but this has nothing to do with medieval cathedrals, where the glass used was hand-blown. Cathedral glass comes in a very wide variety of colors and surface textures including hammered, rippled, seedy, and marine textures. It is made in the US, England, Germany, and China.

Why is stained glass so beautiful? ›

Stained glass is beautiful to look at. We see it as sparkling when we are inside a building because the colors are usually the brightest things we see. This picture shows a stained glass window with the sun right behind it. It took a special kind of photography to make this picture.

Why is red stained glass more expensive? ›

The reason red glass is so expensive to produce is because it uses oxidized gold to achieve its color.

How does stained glass get its colors? ›

Glass is colored by adding metal oxides or metal powders to molten glass. Depending on the metal, the glass takes on a particular color. You may have seen “cobalt blue” glass –yes, that color comes from adding cobalt. Copper oxides also make glass blue to bluish green.

What is the oldest stained glass in the world? ›

New research indicates that some stained glass windows from Canterbury Cathedral may be among the oldest in the world. The panels, depicting the Ancestors of Christ, have been re-dated using a new, non-destructive technique. The analysis indicates that some of them may date back to the mid-1100s.

Who is the most famous stained glass artist? ›

Famous Chagall Stained Glass Masterpieces

Marc Chagall completed his first major project involving stained glass in the year 1956, when he was about 70 years old. He later went on to produce many notable works, which are renowned today as masterpieces.

What's the difference between leaded glass and stained glass? ›

In general, leaded glass suggests no color is involved while stained glass implies color. If you have pieces of glass joined together, but the glass is plain/clear, that'd be leaded glass. Now if the glass is colored (pink, blue, yellow, etc.) and/or has colorful scenes/graphics, that'd be considered stained.

What is the difference between lead and foil stained glass? ›

The difference in how it looks

You can see by the photo above that the same panel looks quite different with the two different techniques. Copper foil is much more delicate, and is more uneven. This is great for organic patterns – flowers etc. Lead came has heavier, more regular lines.

Why do Tiffany lamps feel like plastic? ›

Tiffany fixtures sound like plastic if you tap them with your finger, even though genuine Tiffany products are glass. That's because Tiffany invented a process of wrapping his pieces of stained glass in a piece of paper covered in copper foil.

What was the symbolic message of stained glass? ›

Black stood for death, blue stood for heavenly love and the Virgin Mary, and brown stood for spiritual death. Grey stood for mourning, and green stood for charity. Purple signified royalty and God the Father, while red stood for love, hate and martyred saints.

What were windows called in medieval times? ›

During the medieval period, the precursor to the bay window also appeared: the oriel window. Examples of medieval mullion windows can be seen in Merchant Adventures' Hall in York, and oriel windows can be seen in some of the medieval colleges in Cambridge and Oxford.

What are church windows called? ›

Clerestory (pronounced "clear-story") windows are a type of window popularized in churches and cathedral during the Romanesque period.

When did stained glass became popular? ›

During the Gothic period and the Renaissance (1100s–1500s) stained glass was one of the foremost techniques of painting practiced in Europe. It may seem surprising to call stained glass a form of painting, but in fact it is.

When was stained glass popular in homes? ›

By the mid to late 19th century, it was very common to include stained glass windows in many types of American homes.

Why were stained glass windows important in the Middle Ages? ›

This was seen as conveying God's presence in a very real way. Stained glass windows also conveyed religious ideas, stories, and symbols in picture form so that they may be understood by the congregation, many of whom couldn't read or write.

How do you clean old stained glass windows? ›

The Stained Glass Association of America recommends minimal cleaning. Simply dust, most of the time, and, when needed, wipe clean with a soft, damp cloth. It's best to use distilled water only (available in supermarkets, and generally used for steam irons) -- hard water could spot the glass.

How much does it cost to make stained glass? ›

Custom-made stained glass prices range from $100 to $600 per square foot. While custom-made stained glass is more expensive than premade designs, it also makes your living space unique and can increase your home's value.

Should you wear gloves when soldering stained glass? ›

Basic stained glass SAFETY TIPS to know ⚠️ - YouTube

Is stained glass making toxic? ›

Working with stained glass and lead lighting often involves contact with lead fumes and dust. Any amount of lead fumes or dust is hazardous to your health, and so you should avoid exposure as much as possible. Lead fumes occur when the solder is melted.

How can you tell if glass has lead in it? ›

Lead crystal can be easily identified; all you need is a fingernail or a metal utensil. Tap your nail or a fork against the edge of the drinking glass. If it clinks, it's simply made of glass, but if it rings, it's crystal. Generally, the longer the ring, the higher the lead content.

How much is a Tiffany window worth? ›

Because they're repetitive designs and they came in multiples, they would range in price from about $5,000 per window to $45,000 per window, and it really depends on the size, the condition and the provenance.

Where is the largest collection of Tiffany Glass? ›

Tucked away in an industrial block in the New York City borough of Queens is an ordinary-looking warehouse containing an extraordinary treasure: a quarter-million sheets, shards and pieces of multicolored and iridescent glass that together make up the largest collection of Tiffany glass, The Neustadt Tiffany Glass ...

How is Tiffany Glass marked? ›

Tiffany Mark. Found etched into the bottom of a beautiful white and blue hat-shaped bowl made in the late 1890s, this authentic signature spells out Louis C. Tiffany. Remember, this type of etching can be faked, so it is important to look for other signs that the glass you are viewing is authentic Tiffany Favrile glass ...

Why was stained glass important in the Middle Ages? ›

Stained glass windows were used in churches to enhance their beauty and to inform the viewer through narrative or symbolism. The subject matter was generally religious in churches, though "portraits" and heraldry were often included, and many narrative scenes give valuable insights into the medieval world.

Who invented stained glass in medieval times? ›

Most of what is known about medieval stained-glass making comes from a twelfth-century German monk who called himself Theophilus.

Where was stained glass mostly used? ›

Stained glass was used in secular buildings during the renaissance period. Historic scenes or heraldry were placed in town halls and small panels (usually silver stain and paint on white glass) were incorporated into clear glass windows in homes.

How is stained glass made historically Where was stained glass typically used? ›

Historically, where was stained glass typically used? Stained glass is made by taking pieces of colored glass and putting leading between them, which dries and form a frame that is connected to a base-frame. They are typically found in Gothic-style cathedrals in Western Europe.


1. 2022 02 27 American Synagogue Stained Glass Windows
(JCLP YouTube channel)
2. GSMT - New York: Birth Place of American Stained Glass, Julie L. Sloan - Artisan Lecture Series
(The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York)
3. Multicoloured stained-glass windows known as Qamariya
(AP Archive)
4. Charles J. Connick, an American Stained Glass Artist
(Renewing Communities)
5. Remembering Ervin Bossányi, Stained Glass Artist
(Liszt Institute London I Liszt Intézet London)
6. Johannes Schreiter - Influential Stained Glass designer.

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