Stained Glass - Table of Contents................... Illustrated Architecture Dictionary .................... Gothic / Gothic Revival Architecture

Gothic and Gothic Revival Stained Glass Windows

Gothic: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris France

Gothic Revival: Amos, "Prophets" window, by Charles J. Connick Studios, Westminster Presbyterian Church


Gothic Revival

Gothic - "stained and painted" (13th-14th centuries)

Gothic architecture really began in the 12th century with Abbot Suger, who in his description of the ideal church wanted to fill his Abbey Church of St. Denis, near Paris, with "the most radiant windows."

So with the aid of the pointed arch and the flying buttress, cathedral walls were strengthened to such a degree that spaces could be cut away for larger window casements - and thereby meet the terms of Gothic's prime directive: more light.

Unfortunately, the windows of St. Denis were mostly destroyed during the French Revolution, although fragments and entire windows can be found throughout Europe in churches and private collections.

In Gothic and Gothic Revival stained glass windows, medallions in nave windows depicted scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Medallions re also found in rose windows.

The emergence of the rose window at St. Denis Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral, both in France, greatly influences the field throughout Europe.

Stained glass window making reached an apex in the Middle Ages. Great churches and great cathedrals rose all over Europe, and they blazed with the color of stained glass. Except for the human features and folds of robes, all the color in medieval windows was in the glass itself. It is important to note,however, that painted glass originates with medieval glass. The figures in these windows were stylized, simplified, and bold and were derived from Byzantine mosaics and medieval manuscripts. The subject matter was religious and derived mainly from the Bible. These great storied windows were the teaching tools of the Church.

As the great cathedrals grew higher and higher in the fourteenth century, the windows became taller and narrower, often divided into lancers surmounted by tracery. Figures were elongated and elaborate arches and canopies filled the expanse remaining above the figures. Small scenes, sometimes secular in nature, were set in medallions and arranged up and down the windows.


Another device for filling these huge windows was the use of a type of glass known as grisaille (the name derived from the French word meaning to paint or make gray), first introduced in the thirteenth centurv. The same black oxide commonly used for drawing was used to decorate windows of clear glass. The designs were often leaflike, and the motifs used became increasingly realistic.

Silver stain

Also in the fourteenth century a silver stain was introduced, and yellow and green grew in popularity at the expense of the old favorites, blue and ruby.


Heraldry was a subject in itself in the fourteenth century, and fromt his time onward the donor of a window often appeared as a figure in the picture.

- Nola Huse Tutag, Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit. Wayne State U. Press, 1987, pp. 9-10.

The "stained and painted" process

See also: The Stained Glass Association of America: History of Stained Glass: Gothic Stained Glass

Examples of Gothic windows:

19th Century Gothic Revival (Neo-Gothic)

In 19th century Britain, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was the architect who, almost single-handedly, established the Gothic style as the only viable ecclesiastical architecture. He started to build his first church in 1837. Pugin also designed stained glass windows.

The wealthy built Medieval castles and new churches, both of which needed appropriate Medieval looking furnishings.

John Ruskin widely promulgated Pugin's view about the morality of Gothic style.

United States: The initial impetus to develop stained glass in the United States in the early nineteenth century was the early Gothic Revival among Anglican and Episcopalian congregations. The architecture called for decorative leaded windows to compliment the churches. The major American Revival architects were Richard Upjohn and Minard Lafever.

Gothic was the preferred church style in America from the late 1840s until the War Between the States; the stained glass trade gained a foothold during those years.

Gothic [Revival] was the preferred church style in America from the late 1840s until the War Between the States; the stained glass trade gained a foothold during those years.

The most prominent spokesman for the Gothic Revival was Charles J. Connick. He lectured widely and wrote Adventures in Light and Color, the most respected and eloquent publication on the art form in the twentieth century. Connick expressed the opinion that stained glass's first job was to serve the architectural effect; this opinion was in sharp contrast to the painterly effect that had dominated during the Opalescent era. Connick founded his Boston-based studio in 1913.

Ralph Adams Cram, a Boston architect, was the most prominent spokesman for Gothic-style churches; many of Connick's windows went into his buildings. Joseph G. Reynolds worked with Connick before founding Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock in 1923. Wilbur H. Burnham began work in 1904 and had his own studio by 1922. All these Boston studios designed windows to serve the architecture.

Henry Wynd Young and J. Gordon Guthrie were New York artists whose windows feature elongated, graceful figures who exhibited more painterly character. Studios all over the country were attracted to Gothic designs. Several of the more notable were Emil Frei in St. Louis, R. Tolan Wright in Cleveland and Nicola D'Ascenzo in Philadelphia.

The stained glass craftspeople working in the neo-Gothic style understood very little about medieval iconography, which no one (other than a few scholars) had cared about for centuries. They imitated the color palette of Chartres, principally red and blue, with touches of secondary colors. They imitated the forms, medallion windows for the aisles and large figures for the clerestories. They imitated medieval figure drawing. Since the ideal in the church was a "dim religious light" they imitated the patina of the ages with thin washes of glass paint and picked out highlights.

- The Stained Glass Association of America: History of Stained Glass: American Neo-Gothic Stained Glass

Under the aegis of architects such as Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), the United States experienced a twentieth-century Gothic Revival of a historicism and direction very different from the early Modernism of [Frank Lloyd] Wright. Cram thought opalescent windows inappropriate for a spiritual atmosphere and gave explicit directions to studios to avoid them. His disdain for opalescent glass appears to have been associated with its ubiquity - from lampshades to row-house stairwells - from which he deduced its inappropriateness for a church.

Cram's efforts began the twentieth-century polarization that generally relegated the stained-glass window in America to church decoration, a situation that lasted until the 1960s when a rebirth of stained glass became again linked to contemporaneous work in the fine arts.

Cram was also explicit in his criticism of Munich-style windows. Writing in the journal Stained Glass in 1931 (vol. 26:224), he stated that they were "too terrible to contemplate" and argued that it had become a question of "how toget rid of them without impiety. There was and is but one way. Go they must."

Cram called for replacement windows of the same subject "but made by real artists," flattering the stained-glass trade perhaps in an attempt to realize his agenda.

Like Pugin, Cram was a writer, organizer, and scholar; he was one of the founding members of the Medieval Academy of America. Given the importance of the architect in the selection of a stained-glassstudio, American studios quickly espoused the style, until it became almost universal.

- Virginia Chieffo Raguin, Stained Glass from its Origins to the Present. 2003, p. 254

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2009
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