AmeriGlas Stained Glass

History of Stained Glass


Stained Glass has origins dating back to the development of glass making in ancient Egypt in the second century B.C.  During the 1st century A.D., Romans first began to use crude clear sheet glass in window panes and by the end of that century, glass factories began to appear in Italy and southern Gaul (France).  However, while the new sheet glass began to be used as window panes, it was not used in designs until much later.  The Greeks and Romans extensively used mosaic designs made of pebbles and colored ceramic glass chips on floors, walls and ceilings.  The mosaic art using ceramic glass chips flourished well into the 10th century A.D. and some colored sheet glass and painted glass first appeared at that time.  Stained glass as we know it today was first used in European religious panels around the 11th century A.D.  However, the craft progressed slowly during the "Dark Ages", as was the case for all the arts.

The colored "see through" type of stained glass is still known today as "cathedral" stained glass.  This was originally clear glass which had a colored "stain" applied to it.  The "stained" glass was soon developed into a glass which had the color incorporated into the actual glass by adding metals and minerals to the molten glass resulting in a tinted colored glass which we know today as "cathedral glass".  Stained glass windows were used in European cathedrals from the 1100's.  The use of stained glass expanded during the Renaissance period of art revival in the 14th century and the building of grand cathedrals in Europe during the 1400's through the 1700's.  During this period, leaded clear glass windows also began to be used in some non-church construction, however the use of stained glass outside the church was still rare.

During the Victorian and Edwardian eras of the 1800's, stained glass began to be used in non-religious windows of European chateaus.  These windows still used only the cathedral type of stained glass, however, the colors began to change from traditional bright "royal" colors used in church windows to using many "soft" colors which were more appropriate for domestic windows.  Stained glass made a major advance in the late 1800's and early 1900's during the Art Nouveau period, when American glass makers expanded upon the European cathedral glass by making a translucent "milky" glass known as opalescent glass.  The addition of opalescent glass significantly expanded the variety of glass available for artists, and the art form began to expand.  While other "sub-types" of stained glass have been developed in recent years, the two basic types of stained glass available today are still cathedral and opalescent glass.  See also Glass Types, Textures & Terms.

The Art Nouveau movement began around 1890 and continued into the early 1900's.  During this period, Louis Tiffany (1848-1933) used stained glass extensively in non-religious forms such as lamps and windows.  Tiffany also promoted the new "copper foil" style of stained glass construction which is so popular today.  The copper foil method of construction uses copper foil tape to wrap the edge of each piece of glass, which allows each glass piece to be soldered to the adjoining glass pieces instead of the old method which used lead came to join the pieces of glass.  The foil method of construction is lighter weight than using lead came and also lets the artist use much smaller glass pieces, allowing more detail in a stained glass work.  The extremely fine detail of Louis Tiffany's foiled stained glass work became a signature of Tiffany Art Glass.

The popularity of stained glass continued into the Art Deco period of the late 1920's through the early 1940's and stylized stained glass was incorporated into the architectural designs of many buildings.  However, like most art forms, the popularity of stained glass was slowed by the worldwide depression of the 1930's and the Second World War in the 1940's.  During this period, stained glass was promoted by people such as architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) in his modern Prairie art style, and it continued as a "fringe" art form into the 1950's and early 60's.  

Stained glass gained significant popularity in the late 1960's and early 1970's, this time as a hobby form of art.  Environmental concerns over "lead" in glass panels assembled with lead came also caused most stained glass artists to adapt the copper foil method of construction as the standard method of stained glass assembly.  The mid-1990's brought about another expansion of stained glass known as "Stained Glass Mosaics", which combined the Stained Glass art with the art of Mosaics.  Prior to this time, stained glass had generally been used only in windows or lamps, and mosaics had been limited to small ceramic tile chips cemented onto floors, walls or ceilings.

Stained glass has high optical reflective qualities, a wide range of colors, and can be easily cut into large exacting shapes.  However, traditional stained glass requires exact construction methods and is limited to use in free standing items such as windows and lamps.  Traditional mosaics uses an easy construction method - "free form", and can be applied to almost any surface.  Mosaics, however, is restricted by the small pieces of material, limited colors and poor optical quality of ceramic chips.  The new art form was a perfect union.  Stained Glass Mosaics combines the beauty and cutability of stained glass with the easy construction method and unlimited use of mosaics.  Stained glass mosaics are now used on walls and floors in addition to stepping stones, fountains, vases, plant holders and even lamps.

Stained Glass has developed into a very wide ranging art form.

Jewelry Boxes
Door Panels
Plant Holders
Table Tops
Wall Mirrors
Table Centerpieces
Model Houses
Model Ships
Sun Catchers
Candle Holders
Picture Frames
Photo Frames
Counter Tops
Stepping Stones
Drink Coasters

Samples of its many uses are highlighted in Neat Things You Can Make.  Stained glass types, textures and terms are also explained in the stained glass section of the AmeriGlas web site: Glass Types, Textures & Terms.


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