Early Forms of Glazing

Early Forms of Glazing

Some of the early types of the window glazing art.

Craftsman Style

No strictly defined, nor indeed any approximate, date can safely be given at which the art of the glass-worker sprang into existence. Arts do not spring into existence; they grow, developing themselves in most cases very slowly. The art of working in stained glass can only have been the result of a species of evolution. The germ of it lay in the circumstance that glass was originally made in comparatively small pieces (there were no large sheets of glass a thousand years or more ago), and so it was necessary, in order to glaze any but the smallest window opening, that these small pieces should be in some way cemented together. It followed naturally, in days when art was a matter of every-day concern, the common flower of wayside craftsmanship, that the idea of putting these pieces together in more or less ornamental fashion, should occur to the workman, since they must be put together somehow; and so, almost as a matter of course, would be developed the mosaic of transparent glass, which was undoubtedly the form stained glass windows first took.

Arab Window Lattice, Geometric
Arab Window Lattice, Geometric.

It has been suggested that in some of the earliest windows the glazing is meant to take the form of tesserae ; but the examples instanced in support of that idea afford very little ground for supposing any such intention on the part of the first glass-workers. It may more reasonably be presumed that any resemblance there may be between early glass and earlier wall mosaic conies of working in the same way; like methods inevitably lead to like results.

It is by no means certain, even, that the first glaziers were directly inspired by mosaic, whether of marble or of opaque glass. They were probably much more immediately influenced by the work of the enameller.

That may appear at the first mention strange, considering what has been said about the absolute divergence between mosaic and enamelled glass. But it must be remembered that enamelling itself among the Lombard Franks, the Merovingians, and the Anglo-Saxons, was a very different thing from what the Limousin made it in the sixteenth century. It was, in fact, a quite different operation, the only point in common between the two being that they were executed in vitreous colour upon a metal ground. The enamel referred to as having probably influenced the early glazier is of the severer kinds familiar in Byzantine work, and known as Champ-leve and cloisonne.

In the one, you know, the design is scooped out of the metal ground, in the other its outline is bent in flat wire and soldered to the ground. In either case the resulting cells are filled with coloured paste, which, under the action of the fire, vitrifies and becomes embodied with the metal. In champleve enamel naturally the metal ground is usually a distinguishing feature. In cloisonne the ground as well as the pattern is, of course, in enamel; but in either case the outlines, and, indeed, all drawing lines, are in metal. In cloisonne enamel the metal "cloisons", as they are called, fulfil precisely the function of the leads in glass windows; and it would have been more convenient to have left altogether out of account the sister process, were it not that, in the painting of quite early glass, the strokes with which the lines of the drapery and suchlike are rendered, bear quite unmistakable likeness to the convention of the Byzantine worker in champleve. For that matter, one sees also in very early altar-pieces painted on wood, where gold is used for marking the folds of drapery, the very obvious inspiration of Byzantine enamel but that is rather by the way.

Arab Lattice, Geometric
Arab Lattice, Geometric.

The popular idea of an early window is that of a picture, or series of pictures, very imperfectly rendered. It may much more justly be likened to a magnified plaque of Byzantine enamel with the light shining through it. The Byzantine craftsman, or his descendants, at all events, did produce, in addition to the ordinary opaque enamel, a translucent kind, in imitation presumably of precious stones; and it might very well be that it was from thence the glazier first derived the idea of coloured windows. Quite certainly that was nearer to his thoughts than any form of painting, as we understand painting nowadays; and, what is more, had he aimed deliberately at the effect of enamel (as practised in his day), he could not have got much nearer to it. His proceeding was almost identical with that of the enamel worker.

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