Lead Drawing in Glass Windows

Lead Drawing in Glass Windows

The use of leadwork drawing in white window glazing.

Craftsman Style

The earlier glazier, it was said, painted, figuratively speaking, in glass. It is scarcely a figure of speech to say that he drew in leadwork.

Glazing in Pilaster
Glazing in Pilaster.

This mode of draughtsmanship was employed in all strictly mosaic glass ; but it is in the White Windows (or the pale green windows, which were the nearest he could get to white, and which it is convenient to call white) that this drawing with the leads is most apparent in patterns, that is to say, in which the design is formed entirely by the lead-work.

You have only to look at such patterns as Nos. 1 to 17, to see how this was so; they are all designed in outline, and the outline is given in lead. It is perfectly plain there how every separate line the glazier laid down in charcoal upon his bench stood for a strip of lead. And, looking at the glass, we see that it is the lead which makes the pattern. It is no straining of terms to call this designing in the lead.

The ingenuity in designing such patterns as those below and opposite, which is very considerable, consists in so scheming them that every lead line shall fulfil alike a constructive and an artistic function; that is to say, that every line in the design shall be necessary to its artistic effect, that there shall be no lead line which is not an outline, no outline which is not a lead.

It is not always that the glazier was so conscientious as this. M. Viollet le Due pointed out, in the most helpful article in his famous Dictionary of Architecture, under the head of Vitrail, how in the little window from Bonlieu, here illustrated, the mediaeval craftsman resorted to a dodge, more ingenious than ingenuous, by which he managed to economise labour. Each separate lead line there does not enclose a separate piece of glass. The lines are all of lead; but some of them are mere dummies, strips of metal, holding nothing, carried across the face of the glass only, and soldered on to the more businesslike leads at each end. The extent of bond fide glazing is indicated in the right-hand corner of the drawing. I confess I was inclined at first to think that Viollet le Due might, in ascribing this glass to the twelfth century, very possibly have dated it too far back; for this is the kind of trick one would more naturally expect from the later and more sophisticated workman ; but I have since come upon the same device myself, both at Reims and Chalons, in work certainly as old as the thirteenth century. You see, cutting the glass was the difficulty in those days, and sometimes it was shirked.

Plain Glazing
Plain Glazing.

It should be noted that the subterfuge employed at Bonlieu and in the specimens from Chalons, opposite, was not in order to evade any difficulty in glazing the designs present none but merely to save trouble. There would have been more occasion for evasion in executing the design from Aix-la-Chapelle (14), where the sharp points of the fleur-de-lys give background shapes difficult for the glazier to cut. It will be noticed that to the left of the panel one of the points joins the necking-piece, which holds the lieur-de-lys together. That is a much more practical piece of glazing than the free point, which presents a difficulty in cutting the background, indicative of the late period to which the glass belongs. The earlier mediaeval glazier worked with primitive tools, which kept him perforce within the bounds of simplicity and dignified restraint.


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