Stained glass refers to colored glass. Although it is generally associated with the colored glass of church windows, it has been produced since ancient times. Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Romans all excelled at the production of colored glass making objects such as amphorae and flasks. Pieces of colored glass have been assembled into windows since the Roman period. Stained glass windows have been added to churches since the early medieval period. Surviving stained glass windows from this period and the cathedrals and churches associated with them continue to be revered today for their artistry and craftsmanship.
To make glass, artisans used a mixture of sand and potash. To provide the glass with color, liquid metals were added to the molten glass mixture before it cooled. To create pictorial stained glass works, artists first drew their image on boards. Then, they placed the colored glass atop it to produce the desired effects. The panels would be secured by lead strips known as cames. The cames required soldiering to hold the glass in place.
Stained glass works were created in Europe as well as the Middle East. As an art form, of course, stained glass reached its pinnacle during the Middle ages, specifically during the 1500s. Stained glass was used as a medium to reproduce Biblical stories in windows as well as figures or botanical images. These works were then fitted to churches, cathedrals, and other structures throughout Medieval Europe. Large windows such as those as Chartres Cathedral employed iron to secure the windows in place. Stained glass continued to be created during the Renaissance as well and, of course, it is still produced today.
Historically, stained glass works not only involved glass makers and artists, but also engineers that could properly fit the stained glass windows into their desired locations. Glass makers used various materials to achieve their desired colors. For instance, the introduction of chromium would lead to a rich green shade. To produce red, a hint of metallic gold or pure metallic copper could be employed. Manganese was used to create purple glass.
Some of the most famous works of stained glass include the thirteenth-century windows of Chartres Cathedral, the Crucifixion Window of the Poitiers Cathedral, the Rose Window of Notre Dame, and the Charlemagne Window of the Strasbourg Cathedral. Many artists during the twentieth century also worked with stained glass as an important medium such as Louis Comfort Tiffany. His stained glass lamps and other glass works achieved great renown. Many stained glass works from the ancient to present time are showcased in the world’s great museums.