The astonishment of light: amazing stained glass

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Stained glass seen at Strawberry Hill, home of Horace Walpole built 1749. Walpole bought up slivers of stained glass which had been smashed by the iconoclastic Puritans of the previous century, and rearranged then in his own windows. Fortuitous, surreal and beautiful! 

I suppose we normally think of Stained Glass as being something merely decorative. It’s amazing when you see it in churches, in those huge elaborate geometrical windows. And there are still some old houses that have bits of glass above the front door. But I don’t believe we think about it all that much, and modern architecture really does not admit stained glass in any meaningful way whatsoever.
But I think stained glass deserves a 2nd look. Not for its decorative qualities but for its relationship with light. The wonderful thing about stained glass is that as painting on glass it can be remarkably aesthetic with deep jewel-like colours offset by the black leading; and as in this example here, quite often there is some text which explains or supports the image. But none of this can be made properly visible unless the light is just right. It never fails to amaze me how a country like Britain, which quite often suffers from a dearth of good light, can have so many splendid examples of stained glass. On days like today, when the sky is miles thick with heavy cloud, absolutely zero sun and  lots of horrible rain – this is not atypical for this time of year – you can barely make out the images in stained glass. On other days the sun pours in and actually projects the image onto all the walls of the interior.
I’m fascinated by the relationship of the image making and light, and the relationship of lights and colour. Looking at stained glass is only one of the ways in which I like to reflect upon this.

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