Early Mosaic Windows

Early Mosaic Windows

History of early mosaic stained glass windows.

Craftsman Style

It has been explained already at how very early a period "stained" glass begins also to be "painted" glass more or less.

But for the fond desire to be something more than an artist to teach, to preach, to tell a story the glazier would possibly have been quite content with the mere jewellery of glass, and might have gone on for years, and for generations, using his pot-metal as it left the pot. As it was, working always in the service of the Church, in whose eyes it was of much more importance that a window should be "storied" than that it should be "richly light", he found it necessary from the first to adopt the use of paint, not, as already explained, for the purpose of giving colour, but of shutting it out, or at most modifying it. His work was still essentially, and in the first place, mosaic. He conceived his window,, that is to say, as made up of a multiplicity of little pieces of coloured glass, the outlines supplied, for the most part, by the strong lines of connecting leadwork, and the details traced in lines of opaque pigment. He still designed with the leads, as I have expressed it, and throughout the thirteenth century (though less emphatically than in the twelfth) his design is commonly quite legible at a distance at which the painted detail is altogether lost; but in designing his leads he had always in view, of course, that they were to be helped out by paint.

In the late thirteenth-century or early fourteenth-century figure from Troyes, which depends very little indeed upon any painted detail to be deciphered, the lighter figure glazed upon a ground of dark trellis-work is not only readable, but suggestive of considerable feeling ; and in the undoubtedly fourteenth-century figure on page 241, where, with the exception of the hands and face, there is absolutely no indication of the paint with which the artist eventually completed his drawing, there is no mistaking the recumbent figure of Jesse, even without any help of colour. But the earlier the glass, the less was there of painting, and the more the burden of design fell upon the glazier.

Le Mans
Le Mans.

The two figures from Le Mans, here given (generally allowed to about belong to the year 1100) show very plainly both the amount and the character of the painting used, and the extent to which the design depends upon it. There is no mistake about the value of the lead-lines there, or the extreme simplicity of the painted detail.

It will be seen that paint is there used for three purposes : to paint out the ground round about the feet, hands, and faces; to mark the folds of the drapery, and just an indication of shading upon it; and to blacken the hair. It was only in thus rendering the human hair that the earliest craftsman ever used paint as local colour. In that case he had a way of scraping out of it lines of light to indicate detail. If such lines showed too bright, it was easy to tone them down with a film of thinner paint. In these particular figures from Le Mans the artist had not yet arrived at that process; but from the very first it was a quite common custom, instead of painting very small ornamental detail, to obscure the glass with solid pigment, and then scrape out the ornament.

The fact is, that in early windows a much larger proportion of the glass is obscured, and had need to be obscured, than would be supposed. It will be seen what a considerable area of paint surrounds the feet of the two apostles on page 33. This is partly owing to the then difficulty of exactly shaping the pieces of glass employed; but it is largely due to the actual necessity of sufficient area of dark to counteract the tendency of the lighter shades of glass, such as the brownish-pink employed for flesh-tints, to spread their rays and obliterate the drawing. Not only would the extremely attenuated fingers, shown in the scraps from Hitchin Church above look quite well fleshed in the glass, but it was essential that they should be so painted in order to come out satisfactorily, that is, without the aid of shading, to which painters did not yet much resort. On the contrary, they were at first very chary of half-tint employing it, indeed, for the rounding of flesh and so on, but not to degrade the colour of the glass, small though their palette was.

Hitchin Church
Hitchin Church.

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