By Harkiran Sodhi
IN their quest to be different in home decor, people have exhausted options in what is new. So, they often look back at what used to be. Stained glass is one such example. It used to be commonplace earlier, then it became outre and was cast aside. It is now showing signs of revival. "Eye-catching", "vivid", and "expensive" are some of the terms used to describe stained glass. To understand and appreciate it, we must know what to look for while buying stained glass and a little about its history.
Stained glass is a term used to describe windows and other objects composed of coloured glass which are created by adding metallic oxides set in designs. The beauty of a stained glass is not only in the design and colours that it abounds in, but the dramatic, changing effects created by the light that passes through it through the day.
Paintings are used in homes to create a point of interest where they are hung. They bring about different feelings in different people at various times. Stained glass was created for a similar purpose. The changing light during the day, constantly changes the effect and impact of the piece on the viewer. Contrast in the room adds to the depth and brilliance of the colours of a good stained glass piece, which is why most of the windows seen in the dark interiors of churches seem so much more vivid and rich.
Earlier, large windows were the most common area for stained glass to be displayed or used, but today there are just as many different options for stained glass in the homes as you want. From the regular window panes to door panels, you can have stained glass on mirror edges, lamp shades, as panels used any where, book-ends, and sun-catchers to name a few.
The history of stained glass goes back a long way. In the West the earliest stained glass dates from the 11th century onwards. However, the finest stained-glass windows were produced from about 1130 to 1330. Islamic countries favoured the use of coloured glass, which was set in wooden or stucco frames as early as in the 12th century. The most extensive use of stained glass, however, first occurred in Abbot Sugers rebuilding (1137-44) of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis near Paris, and The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, built in 1243-48, which contains 15 enormous windows with 1,134 narrative scenes that form walls of glass.
When this art spread to the USA, its most successful practitioners were John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Their names are still associated with modern stained glass and they are the ones who managed to bring this art form from the cathedrals and churches into homes.
Tiffany, during a series of experiments, discovered Favrile an iridescent glass which he used for the stained glass work he was to do over the years and his Tiffany lamp shades were to go on to become a legend in their own right.
His trademark on these lamps was the flower he was most partial to as a design, the peony, as was the finishing he used. The worked bits of the lamps were mounted in copper foil and then soldered with copper instead of the customary lead, giving them a unique stamp.
Stained-glass technique has changed very little since its start in the 11th century. In India, the glass that is used for stained glass is imported from Czechoslovakia, Germany, and USA which is why it is expensive. This glass is then coloured, with different metal oxides and the design is traced onto paper which is the exact size of the final product. The glass pieces are cut out with a carbide cutter and ground and then bound together by copper. Earlier lead was used instead of copper but this tended to give way with age and therefore it was replaced with copper which is stronger.
In the earlier days, stained glass windows were created by placing pieces of glass of various colours together on a full-size model or drawing of the window where they were joined with lead strips and soldered in place. These assembled panels were then suspended in the window frame on iron bars called armatures. Till the 12th century windows these armatures were straight, but by the early 13th century they were shaped into a variety of shapes ranging from circles, lozenges, qua trefoils, as well as a combination of these.
The bright colours are the eye-catching part in any stained glass panel. In the earlier years the colours were achieved by mixing metal oxides with the molten glass during smelting; the chartres blue was obtained from cobalt mined in Bohemia, red was obtained from oxidised copper, green from bioxide of copper, purple from manganese mixed with cobalt, and yellow from manganese and ferrous oxide. The decorations, and lettering were painted in Grissalle, a gray-brown enamel which was baked on the glass.
While buying a stained glass piece what should one look for? Apart from seeing that the design is proportionate and pleasing to the eye, check the colours in different light to see the effect. Often painted glass is passed off as stained glass and people buy it none the wiser. While buying stained glass see it from close as well as far.
Viewed from close, you can tell the fakes as they are mostly on regular plain glass while stained glass is on opalescent, bevelled or other such glass. Look closely at the cuts and joins to ascertain that they are joined with lead rather than a cheaper or quicker alternative. The lines and cuts on a genuine stained glass will be more in number and on both sides of the glass.
Maintaining stained glass is not difficult at all. Daily dusting as well as weekly cleaning with a mild detergent mixed in water and a soft brush should do the trick. If your stained glass is on a window or lamp shade it is more important to clean it regularly as the dust shines through the light giving it a shabby look. Sun-catchers are less prone to attracting as much dust as they are protected by a window pane on the outside.
Stained glass is beautiful to look at no matter in what shape it is used. The jewel-like colours that deepen and lighten with the day often seem to reflect the weather and the moods of those who look at them.
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