Stained glass has always fascinated me since I was a kid. It was something that I always equated with trips to other places, grand spaces and stately homes. That somebody would think to make something as utilitarian as a window so beautiful and intricate thrilled me. I would even get excited about the leadlights – stained glass over doors – in houses or set into windows. As a small child there was a large Victorian house that we used to pass regularly in the car which had a corner tower and stained glass that I secretly used to vow would be where I would live when I grew up.
Childhood dreams are easily changed and now the building has been divided into apartments and the stained glass (as far as I can tell) is no longer there. My passion for stained glass still remains, however.
We tend to think of stained glass as something in a church or other religious building – gothic arches soaring and illuminating the faithful at prayer. But it can be found all over the place – as much a status symbol as anything else in houses of the rich and powerful.
It has a long history in the west and in the UK. The earliest known reference to a stained glass window in England dates to 675AD, for the windows that Benedict Biscop was having glazed at the monastery church of St Peter at Monkwearmouth in the north east of the country.
Over the centuries stained glass travelled and some fine examples can now be found across the world, including in Asia. Stunning stained glass can be found in Wat Benchamabophit in Bangkok, begun in 1899 by King Chulalongkorn, one of the great kings of Thailand and a great admirer of western art and culture.
The traditions continue and there is some amazing modern work being done around the world, challenging the traditional methods but also building on the skills of centuries. Incorporating techniques such as etching, acid burning and a range of colours unimaginable to their medieval counterparts new artists are keeping the skills alive and more importantly, relevant to the modern world.
Photographing stained glass has it’s own challenges. Often in dark or shadowed buildings the contrast of light and bright against dark and flat requires patience to effectively capture. You also frequently find yourself looking up or at an angle, which creates challenges of perspective with the image. A burst of sun or a shadow from outside can change the feel, tone and texture of the glass in a fraction of a second. A good example of this can be seen below in the two pictures of Thomas Wolsey initials from Hampton Court. They were taken within seconds of each other, but the two images have a very different balance of light to them.
In the gallery below are a few of the pictures I have taken over the years of stained glass in Europe, Asia and Australia. My filing system being what it is, I have tried to correctly indicate at least the city or country the picture was taken in. Unfortunately, I can’t always identify the building, so if you recognise any of them, please let me know!
Click on the pictures and enjoy a few century’s worth of stained glass.