Medieval stained glass as you probably well know is very old. What you may not know is why it is significant in this day and age. It begins with the fact that medieval stained glass is identified by its use of bold colors. This is something that was new for the time and marked a distinct shift in everything from what was pictured on stained glass windows to a revolution in stained glass technology. The medieval period in Europe lasted from about the 10th century to the 16th century. During this period the art form of stained glass went from rudimentary to incredibly advanced and driving these changes was color technology. One of the first examples of colored window glass shows up in an excavation at the Abbey of San Vincenzo in Volturno, Italy. Here colored stained glass from about 820 was unearthed. Less than two hundred years before the beginning of what is considered the medieval period–this is the oldest known colored glass and could very well have been a predecessor for what we now know to be the colorful medieval style.
Medieval Stained Glass Color Technology
As mentioned, emerging colors are what set medieval stained glass apart from earlier stained glass. Several colors distinguish this period from others in stained glass history. Quite a few actually. The early part of this color revolution was almost certainly created by the naturally occurring purities in the silica used to make the glass. However, as you will see, as time passed the colors were less often mistakes and more often the result of careful experimentation–in other words intentional.
Stained Glass Colors Specific To Medieval Stained Glass
- Medieval blue soda glass: One of the most stunning colors in Medieval stained glass is the blue soda glass. It was an early medieval glass which was soda-based chemically. While very distinct and somewhat rare, for reasons unknown blue soda glass was quickly replaced with Forest glass. However, in its short time on the scene, blue soda glass was prolific and its impact profound. There have been blue soda stained glass found in UK excavations at Old Sarum, Winchester and even some in France.
- Red And Green Medieval Stained Glass: These shades of medieval stained glass were some of the earliest and this is because green and red stained glass outcomes occurred naturally in many cases. This was due to the naturally occurring impurities in the silica used to make the stained glass. However, as the medieval stained glass technology progressed these colors were made even more distinct and vivid by adding copper– in the form of ore or copper filing.
- Silver Stain Medieval Stained Glass: Early on in the Medieval period, unique colors could be brought forth by paying close attention to and controlling the furnace conditions. Things like heat and length of fire could be manipulated to create certain unique colors. What the artists didn’t know is they were actually using techniques to increase or decrease in oxidation. However, later in the Medieval period (about the 14th century), silver stain was introduced. This was a shortcut of sorts and made it possible to create a wider variety of glass hues by painting on this chemical mixture.
The Importance of Medieval Stained Glass
Since Medieval stained glass windows were made such a very long time ago it is hard to see the significance that they have today. But the truth is they are very relevant because of the huge impact on the brightly colored, modern glass we see today. This era in time not only introduced color into stained glass but paved the way for the later development of many of the same colors we use today. Furthermore, by adding color to the mix of the artwork, this period of time started an era of life-like representations of people, places, and things–iconography that is still prevalent today!