When you hear the word "art," what comes to mind? Do you think of famous paintings? How about public works of art, such as sculptures? Perhaps you think of your own creations that are attached to the front of the refrigerator with magnets?
Speaking of glass, some of the most beautiful, artistic parts of old buildings, such as churches and mosques, are the stained glass windows. These fragile, colorful panes of glass do so much more than simply let in light. They possess the power to tell stories and stir the emotions.
The creation of beautiful stained glass windows requires artistic vision and great skill in working with glass and metal. It's an art form that requires tremendous dedication and many years of training. So how did stained glass artists create these works of art so many years ago?
Stained glass windows began with a design. An artist would first develop full-size sketches (called "cartoons") that portrayed the overall composition of the windows, including the shapes of individual pieces of glass, the colors of glass to be used, and the details to be painted onto the glass pieces.
Once the design was complete, individual pieces of glass could be cut from larger pieces of colored glass. Special tools, such as dividing irons and grozing irons, were used to cut and shape pieces of colored glass to fit the shapes called for in the design.
With pieces of colored glass cut and shaped, artists would then paint the individual pieces of glass to achieve the exact colors with the precise details they desired. Stained glass artisans used vitreous paints, which contained powdered glass particles suspended in liquid.
After they were painted, the individual pieces of glass would be fired in a wood-fired oven known as a kiln. The powdered glass particles in the vitreous paint would melt, causing the paint to fuse with the glass permanently.
To assemble the individual glass pieces into a completed panel, the pieces would be held together with narrow, flexible strips of lead, which would be joined together by a lead and tin alloy called solder. Finally, a semi-liquid cement was applied to secure the glass pieces within the lead strips and make the finished window waterproof.
While this might sound like a simple, easy process, it was not! There were many variations to the process, and talented artists could spend thousands of hours working on creating large stained glass windows for mosques and cathedrals.