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The Fabled Stained Glass and Its History

Old, magnificently constructed cathedrals across Europe have one thing in common – ethereally designed stained glass depicting various scenes from the Bible. These brilliant art pieces are placed strategically on the windows which allow minimal light to pass through it, creating a mesmerising and an almost divine atmosphere in these places of worship. It is safe to say that most devotees might have visited the church just to admire the ephemeral image of the natural light passing through these stained glass pieces. The history of stained glass is just as fascinating as their appearance.

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Having originated from the Middle East, stained glass was used as a technique to let a small amount of natural light into buildings without having to open them. Considering the fact that electricity had not been invented at that point, this was innovation at its finest. During the medieval period, stained glass began taking shape similar to what we see now. As mentioned earlier, churches across Europe began commissioning paintings of religious scenes while the ruling royal families would want the subject matter to be their military crusades and other achievements. The oldest stained glass dates back to the eleventh century and is situated in Augsburg Cathedral in Germany. Early stained glass paintings were often simple, were from only one perspective and used limited colours and this changed over time when newer metals were discovered and artists were willing to experiment.

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A popular style of stained glass is the Gothic style which used bright reds and blues to fill the designs and reached its heights of popularity in the thirteenth century, especially in France. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, directly painting on the glass became extremely popular and this paved way for painting the characters with greater facial details. As time went by, stained glass became a household item and began to be used in homes and inns which usually did not have religious connotations but intricate geometrical patterns. During the Renaissance more vivid colours were used to embellish the glasses and gave more depth to the characters. When the Renaissance period was drawing to a close, older styles were being revived and the Gothic style reemerged.

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When old buildings were demolished throughout Europe, people took inspiration from the stained glass and wished to recreate them in their own ways which led to innovations like using it on lampshades, doors, archways and so on and are still a popular home decor product. Having originated solely as a means to let light in, stained glass is a testament to the art world’s ability to transform even a deceptively simple looking utilitarian product to an aesthetic item of decoration cherished by generations of art lovers across the world.

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