Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Stained glass in History

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

 As we prepare to have new windows installed in our building this spring, we are taking a look at our exhibits to determine what will be done with them as the workmen remove old windows and install new. The weather being what it’s been this year, we’re conscious of rain, wind, (but hopefully not snow!) as well as security for our artifacts. In the process of cleaning and doing some maintenance on exhibits earlier this month, we found that with a little re-arranging in our downstairs galleries, we were able to once again put on display a stained glass window from the chapel that was once in the original convent at St. Joe Hospital. St. Joe was founded by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus in 1869 in the former Rockhill House hotel located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Main Streets.

The window uncovered--you are looking toward Barr Street.
Randy Elliott, exhibitor, and Karen Butler-Clary, registrar, examine and clean the window.

Close up of one of the panels.

Stained glass was used in the Far East as long ago as 306 B.C. With the birth of Gothic architecture, stained glass became more common and “.. the full value of glass as a transmitter of light and a polychromatic decorative material was fully appreciated. Gothic window-openings called for a filling strong enough to keep out the weather, yet transparent enough to admit the light; on the other hand, as, in this form of architecture, the wall-spaces were necessarily small, the windows offered the only opportunity for the decorator's art in so far as it depended upon colour. As glass at that time was to be had only in small pieces, the glazier was compelled, in order to fill the window-openings, to make his lights a mosaic, that is a combination of pieces of glass of various sizes and colours worked to a given design by placing them in juxtaposition. These pieces of glass had to be kept in place by some other material, and the best medium for the purpose was found to be lead, applied in strips made with lateral grooves for the reception of the edges of the glass.”

One of the best examples of the use of stained glass can be found in Chartres Cathedral in Chartes, France. Here is a photo I took several years ago of just one of many stained glass windows there. If you go to France, you must go to Chartres, if for no other reason than to see this Cathedral.

The website http://www4.uwm.edu/letsci/arthistory/StainedGlass/history.cfm provides more information on stained glass if you’d like to do further study. The information below was written by Shannon Fitzgerald.

In the Romanesque Period of the 12th Century, “the relatively small windows of the period were designed to admit as much light as possible. Thus, images made with predominantly red and blue glass were then surrounded by white glass. In the Gothic Period of the 13th - 14th Century, more geometrical shapes were incorporated into windows and decorative borders employed.

“The emergence of the Rose Window at St. Denis Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral, both in France, greatly influences the field throughout Europe as providing a means to depict more complex ideas as embellishments in Biblical narrative become prevalent.

“Stained glass witnessed its greatest diversity in design, style, palette and sentiment during the Gothic period. This diversity in approach combined with the skilled artistry that developed with the formation of regulated guilds and a wide array of technological advances elevated the medium to a position of preeminence that would remain unsurpassed.”

During the Reformation in the sixteen century, glass makers sought more secular commissions as the making of religious imagery came with severe penalties. Many stained glass windows were destroyed in churches including those in France and England.

“With the emergence of enamels in the sixteenth century, glaziers began to imitate Renaissance painters and applied thick coats of enamel to the surface, as if painting a canvas. Also, transparent glass gave way to heavily painted opaque glass. The more this was practiced, the more distant old stained glass techniques became. The artistry and skill, that had reached their zenith during the Gothic period, became a lost art. During the nineteenth century Sir Joshua Reynolds and other luminaries completely disregarded the medium and continued using enamel in this vein. For approximately two hundred years stained glass fell out of favor due to massive destruction, religious iconoclasm, preference for Renaissance styles, the rise in enamels usage, and a lack of knowledge of old techniques. Stained glass was not widely produced and did not again receive critical attention until its revival in the nineteenth century.”

Many of Fort Wayne’s older churches have stained glass windows. Here are a few photos from Trinity Episcopal Church, at the corner of Fulton and Berry, which was completed around the time of the end of the Civil War. If you have photos of local stained glass windows in our community that you would like to share with the History Center’s Facebook followers, please send them to nancy.mccammon-hansen@fwhistorycenter.com.

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