Monday, 14 May 2012

Stained Glass Without a Window

How can stained glass operate without a window? When we see stained glass in a museum collection, it is with the understanding that it previously was part of a building. The two windows before are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Apartment Window (The Engagement Ball) was previously in a bay window in the Knickerbocker Building, Fifth Avenue, New York. Autumn Landscape was commissioned Loren Delbert Towle for his Gothic Revival Mansion in Boston (source: Unlike the Apartment Window, Autmn Landscape was gifted to the museum in its original wooden frame, made at the same time as the window. Of course, having been taken out of their original settings, both windows are now lit by artificial light. This is a necessary alternative, but means that they have lost the fluctuations in colour and tone which would have occurred as the quality of light changed during the day.

Apartment Window (The Engagement Ball), 1885, cartoon by Luc-Olivier Merson, executed by Eugene Oudinot, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Autumn Landscape, 1923-24, Tiffany Studios, design attributed to Agnes F Northrop, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What about stained glass that isn't intended to fill a window? In 1983 Sax Shaw was commissioned by the Scottish Development Agency to create a 'free-standing' piece of stained glass, which is now in the National Museum of Scotland.

Camargue, c.1983, Sax Shaw, National Museums of Scotland.

Shaw's notes in the archives of the SDA reveal the difficulty he had in designing a panel which was not site specific. When designing a piece of glass for a window, the artist always considered the direction of light coming through it. Shaw felt that designers of stained glass windows should set aside their own egos and create a design which truly complements the building. Because there was no guiding directional light, Shaw had trouble when deciding how to create shadow and form in the figurative imagery. Shaw eventually came up with a solution: create your own light. He commissioned a light box from in front of which the glass would stand. In this way, wherever the panel went, it always had sufficient light behind it.

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