Mosaic Art Painting in Glass Windows

Mosaic Art Painting in Glass Windows

Patterns and history of mosaic art painting in glass windows of the Romanesque and Gothic periods.

Craftsman Style

The glass so far vaguely spoken of as "Early" belongs to the period when the glazier designed his leads without thinking too much about painting.


There followed a period when the workman gave about equal thought to the glazing and the painting of his window.

Then came a time when he thought first of painting, and glazing was a secondary consideration with him.


According as we contemplate glass painting from the earlier or the later standpoint, from the point of view of glass or of painting, we are sure to prefer one period to the other, to glory perhaps in the advance of painting, or to regret the lesser part that coloured glass eventually plays in the making of a window. To claim for one or the other manner that it is the true and only way, were to betray the prejudice of the partizan. Each justifies itself by the masterly work done in it, each is admirable in its way. It is not until the painter began, as he eventually did, to take no thought of the glass he was using, and the way it was going to be glazed, that he can be said with certainty to have taken the downward road in craftsmanship. We shall come to that soon enough ; meanwhile, throughout the Gothic period at least, he kept true to a craftsmanlike ideal, and never quite forsook the traditions of earlier workmanship ; and until well into the fourteenth century he began, we may say, with glazing. In the fourteenth century borders overleaf and in the figure on page 47, no less than in the earlier examples on pages 43 and 46, the glazing lines fulfil a very important part in the design, emphasising the outlines of the forms, if they do not of themselves form an actual pattern.


Naturally, once the glazier resorted to the use of paint, he schemed his leads with a view to supplementary painting, and had always a shrewd idea as to the details he meant to add; but it will be clear to any one with the least experience in design that a man might map out the lead work of such borders as those shown below with only the vaguest idea as to how he was going to fill them in with paint, and yet be sure of fitting them with effective foliage. So the architectural canopies on pages 134, 135, 154, were pretty surely first blocked out according to their lead lines; and not till the design was thus mapped out in colour did the designer begin to draw the detail of his pinnacles and crockets. The invariable adherence to a traditional type of design made it the easier for him to keep in mind the detail to come. For he had not so much to imagine as to remember. He was free, however, always to follow any spontaneous impulse of design.

It was told in Early Mosaic Windows how, in the beginning, pigment was used only to paint out the light, to emphasise drawing, and to give detail, such as the features of the face, the curls of the hair, and so on. That was the ruling idea of procedure. In practice, however, it is not very easy to paint perfectly solid lines on glass. At the end of a stroke always, and whenever the brush is not charged full of colour, the lines insensibly get thin, not perfectly opaque, that is to say; and so, in spite of himself, the painter would continually be obtaining something like translucency, a tint, in fact, and not a solid brown.

Not to have taken advantage of this half tint, would have been to prove himself something less than a good workman, less than a reasonable one ; and he did from the first help out his drawing by a smear of paint, more or less in the nature of shading. In flesh painting of the twelfth century (or attributed to that early date) there are indications of such shading, used, however, with great moderation, and only to supplement the strong lines of solid brown in which the face was mainly drawn. The features were first very determinedly drawn in line ("traced" is the technical term), and then, by way of shade, a slight scum of paint was added.

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