Sacred Sunday: 13th Century Stained Glass (Romanesque and Gothic) – Part 1 of 2

Based on remains found at Pompeii and Heraculaneum, stained glass was first used by wealthy Romans in their villas and palaces in the first century A.D. At this time stained glass was considered a domestic luxury rather than an artistic medium. It began to be regarded as an art form when Constantine first permitted Christians to worship openly in 313 A.D., as they began to build churches based on Byzantine models. The earliest surviving example of pictorial stained glass is a Head of Christ from the tenth century excavated from Lorsch Abbey in Germany.

Romanesque Period, 12th Century

By the ninth and tenth centuries, as the demand for churches increased so did the production of decorative stained glass windows. Early Romanesque style stained glass was influenced by the linear patterning, abstraction and severe frontality found in Byzantine Art. Most church windows depicted individual monumental figures with few tiers in lozenge shaped groupings. The relatively small windows of the period were designed to admit as much light as possible. Thus, images made with predominantly red and blue glass were then surrounded by white glass. King Hezekiah from Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral, England dated 1220 and Charlemange Enthroned, c.1220 from Strasbourg Cathedral, Austria reflects the classic monumentality and Byzantine derived infused bands of color and an emerging tendency to look at the Imperial past for inspiration.

Gothic Period, 13th – 14th Century

With the advent of Gothic architecture, stained glass flourished as the expansion of immense window spaces in Gothic cathedrals demanded a new approach to the medium. Red and blue remain the predominant color choice and the tendency to fuse white glass in the composition allowing for more light gives way to completely filling up of space with ornate designs consisting of darker glass. A wide variety of geometrical shapes emerge as narrative becomes more important and complex juxtaposition of events are recorded in compartmental sequences. Decorative borders and foliage become more formalized and intricate while experimentation with more naturalistic and volumetric forms appears in figurative work. The flashed glass technique is introduced, offering glaziers a means to achieve a variety of color gradations in a single piece of colored glass. The emergence of the Rose Window at St. Denis Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral, both in France, greatly influences the field throughout Europe as providing a means to depict more complex ideas as embellishments in Biblical narrative become prevalent.

Toward the end of the thirteenth century a desire for more illumination surfaced with an increase in non-figurative windows and concentric patterning that incorporated more transparent glass. One of the finest examples of this shift in taste is York Minster’s Five Sisters Windows, a remarkable display of grisaille glazing. Grisaille glazing was first favored by the Cistercian Order under St. Bernard, who found that figurative windows distracted monks from religious responsibilities. This labor intensive technique consisting of complex formalized leaf-like forms relying on an intricate pattern of lead and a great deal of painted detail and crosshatching became widespread throughout England and France. As the palette became increasingly lighter, horizontal layers of colored glass and grisaille, or band windows, were incorporated in the figurative windows. As widespread adoption of elaborate stone window tracery occurred, figurative groupings fall out of favor and the individual figure resurfaces, but now framed by architectural canopies. Stained glass witnessed its greatest diversity in design, style, palette and sentiment during the Gothic period. This diversity in approach combined with the skilled artistry that developed with the formation of regulated guilds and a wide array of technological advances elevated the medium to a position of preeminence that would remain unsurpassed.

Tree of Jesse c. 1200 Stained glass window Cathedral, Canterbury

Tree of Jesse
c. 1200
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Canterbury

The picture shows the overall view of the west window depicting the Tree of Jesse.

After the disastrous fire at Canterbury Cathedral in 1174, the cathedral was rebuilt. In the rebuilt church the windows at ground level were given narrative cycles and the clerestory windows enthroned figures of the ancestors of Christ. This impressive program is no longer in its original position, but in the course of time the glass finished up in the southwest transept and the great west window.

Tree of Jesse (detail) c. 1200 Stained glass window Cathedral, Canterbury

Tree of Jesse (detail)
c. 1200
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Canterbury

This detail of the west window in Canterbury Cathedral represents Aminadab in the center.

Rose window 1200-10 Stained glass window Cathedral, Lausanne

Rose window
1200-10
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Lausanne

The rose window in the south transept of Lausanne Cathedral in Switzerland retains a large proportion of its magnificent glass, which depicts a cosmology of the world as people imagined in the 13th century. The Sun, Moon, Earth, sign of the zodiac, and the four elements represent the entire world. Depictions of themes such as the seasons and the labors of the months symbolize the passing of time.

St Eustace (detail) 1200-10 Stained glass window Cathedral, Chartres

St Eustace (detail)
1200-10
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Chartres

The picture shows a scene from the St Eustace window in the north aisle of the Chartres cathedral. The window is made up of large and small circles arranged around central squares. The first picture in a square shows the saint riding out to hunt. The picture frame serves as a terrain for the deer as sit plunges away from the riders who storm into the frame from the left. In his ability to suggest powerfully built bodies under the drapery, the artist reveals a mastery of line and color.

The Good Samaritan and Genesis 1205-15 Stained glass window Cathedral, Chartres

The Good Samaritan and Genesis
1205-15
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Chartres

The master who was responsible for several stained-glass windows in the southern side aisle of the nave in Chartres cathedral cannot be pinned down in the shape of a single artist. Rather, the windows can be assumed to represent the combined efforts of a large workshop.

Few visitors to France’s 13th-century cathedrals are aware of the complex religious programmes which lie hidden in each pane of their colourful windows. As in the illuminated manuscripts of the same era, so-called typological schemes were particularly popular. These juxtaposed episodes from the Old Testament with the events in the New Testament which, as “types”, they foreshadowed. This concept lay at the heart of the artistic programme governing the side aisles at Chartres: the north-facing windows, which lie in the shade, are dominated by episodes from the Old Testament, in which God reveals himself to Israel. The windows on the south side, on the other hand, are devoted to the themes of resurrection and salvation.

This detail is taken from a lancet window and is related to the overall programme in a particularly subtle theological way. Starting from the donors portrayed at the base of the window, the painting leads via the parable of the Good Samaritan to the Fall and the Expulsion from Paradise to, at the apex, Christ in Glory: the journey thus leads from Creation to the end of the salvation story.

North Rose Window c. 1220 Stained glass window Cathedral, Chartres

North Rose Window
c. 1220
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Chartres

The picture shows the north rose window of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Chartres. The Cathedral was rebuilt after a fire occurred in 1194.

South Rose Window c. 1220 Stained glass window Cathedral, Chartres

South Rose Window
c. 1220
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Chartres

The picture shows the south rose window of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Chartres. The Cathedral was rebuilt after a fire occurred in 1194.

Miracles of the Virgin c. 1220 Stained glass window Cathedral, Chartres

Miracles of the Virgin
c. 1220
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Chartres

This scene, recalling the earlier “cult of the carts” when the populace had supposedly carted stones to help in the building of the old cathedral, depicts a newly installed fund-raising statue of the Virgin on the main altar and urges the beholder to give generously.

Charlemagne's Dream c. 1220 Stained glass window Cathedral, Chartres

Charlemagne’s Dream
c. 1220
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Chartres

Departure of the Prodigal Son c. 1210 Stained glass window Cathedral, Bourges

Departure of the Prodigal Son
c. 1210
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Bourges

The picture shows a detail of the window representing the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The pane depicts the Prodigal Son at the beginning of the story. A typical noble of the 13th century, he rides out at his gray horse, his falcon on his hand. He wears a purple gown whose fine folds play round his body, and a splendid cloak with fur lining.

The colour range of the window includes red and blue, with white, various shades of purple, yellow, and green predominating in the figurative areas. The figures have delicate, slender bodies that are surmounted by large heads with protruding skulls.

Scenes of the Story of St Nicasius 1200-25 Stained glass window, 70 x 79 cm (each panel) Musée du Louvre, Paris

Scenes of the Story of St Nicasius
1200-25
Stained glass window, 70 x 79 cm (each panel)
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This stained glass window from the region of Soissons consists of eight panels assembled in two large medallions, on above the other, relating the martyrdom of Nicasius, archbishop of Reims, and his sisters Eutropia, both beheaded by the Vandal army that besieged the city in 1407. Their bodies were buried in the cathedral. The style of the figures and the overall composition are characteristic of early thirteenth-century Gothic in northern France.

Esther Window (detail) 1240s Stained glass window Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Esther Window (detail)
1240s
Stained glass window
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

The detail of the Esther Window in the upper church of the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, represents Esther and Ahasuerus.

The iconographic program of the cycles on the windows in the Sainte-Chapelle covers the history of the world in hundreds of scenes, from the Creation up to the arrival in Paris of the relics of the Passion that Louis IX (1236-70) acquired for his chapel. The pictures are full of allusions to the French monarchy, associating it with the kings of the Old Testament and with Christ. The life and deeds of Queen Esther are held up as a mirror to queens as they attend mass in the palace chapel.

 

Next Sunday, it’s the final part to 13th Century Stain Glass

 

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