Light Fantastic – 1000 Years of Stained Glass Windows
with Keith Cattell
Thursday 28 September 2017
The VEHS launched its new season of Speaker’s Nights by tripping the Light Fantastic.
The literally brilliant talk by Mr Keith was very colourful to say the least with a very informative talk about the history and development of stained glass as used, first in Ecclesiastical buildings before the Reformation of Henry VIII and Edward VI – when much of it was destroyed – to its resurgence in later centuries when the lost techniques of the production of the glass making were regained. It later gained popularity amongst those with the funds to acquire such an expensive addition to their great houses as status symbols, or as memorials to their kin in parish churches, cathedrals, and religious houses. Beautiful examples can be seen locally at Sudeley, Fairford and indeed in the churches of Evesham.
We followed the journey of its early production using cobalt, oxides and indeed gold to obtain the bright colours of the medieval glass – so successful, that it was thought that actual gems were used to make it. We progressed to the painting on the glass to produce features and saw how a few brush strokes could achieve characterful faces, and draping of clothes, etc. Some epic examples also showed considerable humour at the expense of members of the congregation – even priests and Bishops! One example that was discussed was in a window illustrating the Last Judgement, where the village gossip was going to Hell in a hand cart – it was suggested that the rather human looking devil doing the pushing was her husband. Most of the early subjects were of biblical scenes, and as the populace were illiterate this was the teaching aid of the times.
Centuries later, more domestic scenes were produced for those who could afford it, and today, examples can be found in foyers, public houses, theatres and restaurants – and in houses as the Tiffany style lamps and such like. Modern technology has enabled the production of opalescent glass, bubbles and a whole variety of colours and patterns; photographic appearance of painting, uranium to get rather a radioactive green (safe levels I understand) and with the advent of diamond band saws to cut fine shapes, craftsmen are now able to produce amazingly intricate designs that leaves one breathless. Masterpieces such as the work of Harry Clarke, John Piper, the Bromsgrove and Cotswold Guilds to name but a few, bear testament to this truly bejewelled and delightful art form.