Stained Glass: History of Stained Glass Art

If you're a churchgoing person, then you're more than familiar with stained glass windows. These pieces make up a huge percentage of religious artwork, and depict scenes from the Bible and important religious figures. They were the photographs of their time: a historical record of important events for all to see, which was important as most of the population was illiterate. The history of stained and colored glass artwork is long and interesting, dating back to the beginnings of the last millennium.
Alas, the first of these windows is lost to history, and their origins can only be debated. Mosaics and jewelry makers are credited with developing the technique that created colored glass art as we know it, which arose during an increase in church construction. However, colored glass had been produced since the days of the Egyptian and Roman empires, both of which surpassed others when it came to manufacturing small, stained glass objects.
Churches caught onto the beauty of this art in the 4th and 5th centuries during the rise of church building, and many windows from this time period remain. British churches and monasteries began to adopt stained glass windows as part of their decor in the 7th century, when French workmen began to glaze the windows of monasteries.
Stained glass reached its acme in the Middle Ages. It served a two-fold purpose: 1. It was beautiful to look at and 2. Since most citizens couldn't read the Bible, the window art served as a television of sorts by illustrating the events to the illiterate. The pieces from this era have become known as the "Poor Man's Bible." This trend continued into the Gothic Era, when architectural design forced windows to grow larger, giving artists more of a canvas to work on.
The style didn't change much through the Renaissance, but the French Revolution and Reformation saw the destruction of many windows, which were replaced with plain glass. This rampage caused the traditional methods of colored glass work to be forgotten until the early 19th Century, when the Catholic revival renewed interest and many works were restored. The revival extended all over Europe, most notably in Britain and France. During this same period, John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany applied and received patents for using opalescent glass to create a new form of stained glass windows, and the process extended to lamps, art and other pieces.
The 20th Century saw more stained glass tragedies and innovations. World War II left many European church windows destroyed, and artists led in restoring the thousands decimated by bombings. The period also saw slab glass in concrete become popular, as well as modern art styles creeping their way into stained glass art. Now, colored glass art can be found in churches, sculptures, public buildings and businesses all over the world.

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