Islamic and Arab Window Glazing

Islamic and Arab Window Glazing

History and pictures of Arab or Islamic type window glazing styles and patterns.

Craftsman Style

In place of vitreous pastes the artist used glass itself; in place of brass, lead; and, for, supplementary detail, in place of engraved lines, lines traced in paint. Side by side with the early European window glazing, and most likely before it, there was practised in the East a form of stained glass window building of which no mention has yet been made. In the East, also, windows were from an early date built up of little pieces of coloured glass; but the Mohammedan law forbidding all attempt at pictorial representation of animate things, there was no temptation to employ painting; the glazier could do all he wanted without it. His plan was to pierce small openings in large slabs of stone, and in the piercings to set numerous little jewels to coloured glass. The Romans, by the way, appear also to have sometimes filled window spaces with slabs of marble framing discs of coloured glass, but these were comparatively wide apart, more like separate window-lets, each glazed with its small sheet of coloured glass. The Oriental windows, on the contrary, were most elaborately designed, the piercings taking the form of intricate patterns, geometric or floral. Sometimes the design would include an inscription ingeniously turned to ornamental use after the manner of the Moorish decorators of the Alhambra. A further development of the Oriental idea was to imbed the glass in plaster, a process easy enough before the plaster had set hard.

This kind of thing is common enough in Cairo to this day, and specimens of it are to be found at the South Kensington Museum. M. Vogue illustrates in his book, La Syrie Centrale, an important series of windows in the Mosque of Omar (Temple of Jerusalem), erected in 1528, by Sultan Soliman. The plaster, says M. Vogue, was strengthened by ribs of iron and rods of cane imbedded in the stouter divisions of the framework, a precaution not necessary in the smaller Cairene lattices (measuring as a rule about four superficial feet), in which the pattern is simply scooped out of the half-dry plaster.

The piercings in these Oriental windows and window lattices are not made at right angles to the slab of stone or plaster, but are cut through at an angle, varying according to the position and height of the window, with a view to as little interference as possible with the coloured light. The glass, however, being fixed nearest the outside of the window, there is always both shadow and reflection from the deep sides of the openings, much to the enhancement of the mellowness and mystery of colour. In the Temple windows referred to, still further subtlety of effect is arrived at by an outer screen or lattice of faience. Thus subdued and tempered, even crude glass may be turned to beautiful account.

Floral Arab Lattice
Floral Arab Lattice.

Whence the mediaeval Arabs got their glass, and the quality of the material, are matters of conjecture. If we may judge by the not very ancient specimens which reach us in this country, the glass used in Cairene lattices is generally thin and raw; but set, as above described, in jewels as it were, isolated each in its separate shadow cell, the poorest material looks rich. The lattices here illustrated are none of them of very early period; but, where the character of design is so traditional and changes so slowly, the actual date of the work, always difficult to determine, matters little.

Arab Glazing in Pilaster
Arab Glazing in Pilaster.

It is more than probable, it is almost certain, that the Venetian glass-workers, who in the tenth century brought their art to France, were familiar with the coloured lattices of the Levant; for, as we know, in the middle-ages Venice was the great trading port of Italy, in constant communication with the East. If that was so, the Italians, always prone to imitate, would be sure to found their practice, as they did in other crafts, more or less upon Persian and Arabian models. At all events, there is every reason to suppose that at first they, practically speaking, only did in lead what the Eastern artificer did in stone or plaster, and that the windows which, according to various trustworthy but vague accounts, adorned the early Christian basilicas as early as the sixth century, bore strong likeness to Mohammedan glass - Christianised, so to speak. This is not to unsay what was before said about the affinity of early glass to enamel. A river has not of necessity one only and unmistakable source; and though we may not be able to trace back through the distant years the very fountain of this craft, we may quite certainly affirm that its current was swollen by more than one side-stream, and that its course was shaped by all manner of obstinate circumstances and conditions of the time, before it went to join the broad and brimming stream of early mediaeval art.

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