A Brief History of Stained Glass Windows

Written by on September 28, 2012 in Lifestyle - No comments | Print this page


Many art forms have been in existence for centuries but few predate the ancient use of colored glass in windows.  Evidence of the use of colored glass in the windows of British monasteries dates back as early as the 7th century and by the 8th century a chemist in southwest Asia is purported to have established 46 recipes for producing such glass.

As an art form colored glass, often referred to as stained glass, reached its height in the Middle Ages.    Window designs were illustrations of Biblical narratives and the audience for which they were intended was mostly an illiterate populace.  During the Romanesque and Gothic period, there was an evolution of style that resulted in grander, more ornate and detailed European cathedral and chapel windows.  Ultimately the breathtaking work of artists and craftsmen during those periods was neglected and destroyed during the French Revolution and English Reformation.  Few windows from that period remained undamaged.  The traditional art form known as stained glass died out and would not be revitalized until the 19th Century in England.

The English settlers of 1607 Jamestown were the first to produce an American made window glass.  The venture, born of the readily available forest wood and sand, was short lived.  50 years later records indicate that glass was being blown in Manhattan in the form of rondels and cut into bullseyes for window glass.  In 1857 the first major American decorative art glass studio was established in New York City.   30 years later in 1888 the first true manufacturer of American made art glass began producing colored sheet glass which was commonly coined stained glass.

Technically there is a difference between stained glass and colored sheet glass.  Stained glass refers to finished glass, often colored sheet glass, which has been hand painted and fired sometimes multiple times.  Over time the painted surface is subject to deterioration and fading and must be restored by highly skilled restoration experts.  Colored glass on the other hand is a soda and lime composite with metallic oxide powders added before the melting process.  The color is throughout and not subject to deterioration over time.

Today there are large and small studios all across the United States whose livelihoods involve the artistry of stained glass.  In addition there is resurgence of interest in the art form among hobbyists. Much of their glass is sourced from American manufacturers of colored sheet glass, including the original manufacturer that has been in continuous operation since its beginning in 1888.


This is a guest post.  Mercedes Potter is a part of an elite team of writers who have contributed to hundreds of blogs and news sites. Follow her @CedesPotter for more information on stained glass windows.


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