The origin and recovery of artistic stained glass windows

The beginnings of the stained glass tradition of modernism are to be found in the last years of the nineteenth century through the continuity of the artists’ search for the effects and peculiarities of stained glass in neo-Gothic interiors.

In its formal aspect, modernist stained glass is no different from the tradition that preceded it and its aesthetic value compared to decorative painting. The qualities of the stained glass are established according to the light, the quality and thickness of the glass layer and the techniques used for the polychromy.

Stained glass in modernism

The stained glass windows of modernism took their first steps in England and will pass to France and the United States to be very much to the taste of architects. The origins of this recovery of stained glass in the 1860s are attributed to the English and the existence of numerous glass workshops and factories. In this sense, the heritage of William Morris, who brought the Pre-Raphaelite painting style to stained glass, marked the continuity during the early years of modernism.


The English neo-Gothic had recovered the most revivalist and primitive expression of Morris’s stained glass windows, heirs of the technical and expressive spirit of medieval stained glass. He entrusted the master glassmakers with the opportunity to innovate in transparency and individuality, because each edge will use the techniques in a certain way. Floral and animal decoration already existed in Pre-Raphaelite stained glass. During this period, stained glass windows were made for some of the great French and English cathedrals. Pre-Raphaelite and English Gothic influenced France.

Later, in the 1870s, stained glass windows became essential for both restorations and new neo-Gothic buildings. By 1880, catalogs recommending stained glass windows for homes proliferated in England. Stained glass can effectively replace painting to capture certain stories, legends, poems in medieval castles for the setting and iconography. To this was added the high appreciation of the decorative arts as a means of creating atmospheres and interior environments.

Formal and aesthetic aspects of modernist stained glass

Stained glass windows from 1860 onwards became brighter than medieval or renaissance and baroque ones. The French architect and theoretician of first restorations of Gothic buildings, Viollet-le-Duc, Viollet-le-Ducwrote a synthesis of the laws governing the art of glassmakingThe archaeological aspiration, analyzing the effects of color on interior environments: warm colors move forward while cold colors move backward. Winston’s theory that extracts from his experiments the laws of the behavior of stained glass windows exposed how they would look and feel dull if they did not have transparent light areas. An interior space will look dark and heavy if it has more shadows than light. Undoubtedly, the illumination provided by modernist stained glass is one of the most outstanding aspects for its use.


In its evolution, stained glass started from the most schematic -with large plates- and simple figures with wide fields of flat color. The way of coloring the glasses was based on metallic oxides with which the color range was limited to blues, yellows and reds. The problem with stained glass is that there are certain colors that eat up light, as is the case with red.


To avoid this, the master glassmaker sought to achieve the greatest transparency and tended to make white backgrounds on which to superimpose narrower colored glass plates. This plating system allows two different colors to be superimposed and a red and a green plate can be placed one on top of the other or a blue and a white plate can be placed one on top of the other. This technique was intended to counteract the opacity of the red glass.

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