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European Virtual Training Centre
for glass arts and techniques

France Black stain


By Catherine Lapointe, translated by Ghislaine Beyel and Steve et Karen Linn

From their first appearance until today, stained glass windows are like filters that magnify and make perceptible divine light. They transform buildings by displaying touches of colour and turn us toward celestial Jerusalem. The Middle Ages produced informative and enlightening pictures painted on glass. From the XIIth century on, they were assembled around huge compositions, several medallions, or important figures. The glass masters used grisaille painting to realize their pieces. Note here that the term ‘grisaille’ does not appear before the first half of the XIXth century. Before this time, the word ‘colour’ and later ‘black colour’ were used. The grisaille tracing could be more or less diluted, a wash, a halftone, or black opaque line. The drawing was simple and immediately comprehensible.

In the XIIIth century, medallions telling the life story of the saints proliferated. Great figures were still represented especially and almost exclusively in the high windows. Grisaille drawing remained simplistic and above all stylized. Figures were long and tightly draped. Representation was built by using major very expressive lines along with thin and elegant lines for creating values.

In the XIVth century, medallions were still used for narration, but another theme appeared to compliment the great figures, this was an architectural framework. Generally, drawing tended to be more realistic and precise. Relief painting appeared. Reverse glass painting was used more thus enabling the highlighting of details. Stencils were used to create vegetal or checked backgrounds. New brushes also contributed to the creation of more refined painting. It was the beginning of perspective and damasks. Finally, the invention of silver stain provided a wide range of yellows and above all reduced the costs of working.

The XVth century was a turning point in stained glass art, which was marked as early as the mid-century by the progress made in painting. The laws of perspective were better known even though it was still used in a timid and somewhat clumsy manner. It was also the beginning of the use of scenery. Above all, drawing gained more realism in the execution of volumes. Painters mastered the difficulties of silver stain and many different kinds of brushes helped them improve their skills. The use of chalk red and iron red endowed hands and faces with beautiful skin tones.

In the XVIth century, the quest for realism reached a climax. The postures of the characters were flowing and natural, their setting was realistic and the proportions were definitively correct. The drawing was based on very elaborate tracing and relief painting. New glass tints were developed enriching the colour range. Translucent enamels appeared at that time, they were applied like paint, and these coloured details made compositions more beautiful. They could also be used to paint whole scenes on rather limited surfaces.