Early Days (Stained Glass History Lesson- Part 1)

January 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

This is part one of my historical disection re:glass. If you missed the intro click here. If you think glass is a silly thing to contemplate, please scroll down to some of our “food porn” posts. These historical instalments are not meant to cover everything related to stained glass, I’m merely highlighting what I find to be the most interesting points during my studies on the topic. Also, I have included a bibliography for two reasons: So you know i’m not making it all up, and because i’m a product of the MLA format (although I’m disregarding some aspects of it here for my own pleasure).

So who came up with this whole glass thing then? Nobody knows for sure, but it was most likely discovered by accident, under extreme conditions. How extreme you ask? Roughly 1400 degress Celsius! It’s a pretty simple recipe. All you need is sand and wood. I’m guessing some people were having a right old time on the beach (barbeque style) and the morning after they noticed a hard shiny substance glistening from beneath their charred marshmallows and beer bottle caps. Wait, the beer bottle hadn’t been invented yet because glass didn’t exist, and neither did marshmallows… I might be slightly off course here, but the scene couldn’t have been much different… People were messing about, and they created something that would change the world. Nothing new there!

So lets move on to something we are more sure about. The Egyptians are thought to have been the first to create glass in a controlled way. They used it to glaze vessels (pots, vases, etc..) and for jewelry. They hadn’t figured out the window thing yet so we will have to move on. Sorry Egyptians.

The Romans were the first to use glass in windows. So now we are getting somewhere. Roman glass had a green tint to it created by iron oxide impurities during the firing process. We are looking at roughly 100-200AD on our glass timeline here.

The earliest stained glass windows date back to the 11th century. They can be found in the Augsberg Cathedral in Germany. Look, here’s a pic of one from Wiki:


Pic: Prophet Jonas, Augsberg Cathedral, Germany
So lets jump along here to something quite familiar to our readers… A recipe.. of sorts…but for glass!

Theophilus, a Benedictine monk wrote Diversarum Artium Schedula, or Diverse Arts. A guide to arts and crafts during the twelfth century. In this book he describes the production of glass in great detail. “Frist cut many beechwood logs and dry them out, then burn them all together in a clean place and carefully collect the ashes, taking care that you do not mix any earth or stones with them.” He goes on to describe kiln construction, mixing ratios of fine sand to beechwood ash, and the firing process. Metallic oxides added to this sand and ash mix allow the creation of a wide spectrum of colours.

So that’s it for this installment. Next time we will swim about in the Renaissance and see what they got up to in medieval europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. I will also discuss the religious connections and how stained glass work expanded as a result.

Bibliography (of sorts)

The Stained Glass Handbook, Viv Foster, 2006, London, England
Glass: A World History, A. Macfarlane & Gerry Martin, 2002, London , England
Stained Glass: From it’s Origins To The Present, Virginia Chieffo Raguin,2003, London, England


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