Could you please tell me more about this piece of stained glass?
Sure! Getting to see seventeenth-century stained glass up close is a special opportunity because it allows us to observe the different techniques used to create the object, such as the detailed lines painted on the back of the glass, and the lead used to connect each piece. Stained glass was one of the most widespread forms of painting in European church interiors. Scenes showing lives of holy figures were intended to educate and inspire the faithful.
The figures look full of motion, even though they are sitting still.
That’s a great observation! The lines are filled with curves and an almost nervous energy. This was typical of baroque art. Flemish stained glass designers were looking to paintings and printed sources for design ideas. You can see the detailed cityscape painted in the background.
Is the the color blue significant in stained glass?
Yes! In this example, you can see that the color blue was reserved for the mantle of the Virgin. The cobalt used to color glass was imported and expensive, which is why it was used sparingly and only for the most significant figure. Similarly, in the nearby manuscripts, you can see how rare minerals and pigments were used symbolically to describe Mary’s celestial mantle, the blue skies of heaven, and the Holy Spirit’s divine aura.
Why is Mary often depicted in blue?
Mary is often depicted with a blue mantle because blue was associated with the sky and Mary was being portrayed as the Queen in Heaven. Additionally, blue pigments were very expensive and were often reserved for the holiest figures in a given scene.
Religious iconography had to be consistent so that illiterate worshipers could identify key figures. The blue mantle is also a useful visual device used throughout the history of Christianity!
Did both purple and blue signify royalty?
If only the wealthy could afford a certain pigment, it became associated with those in power. Purple pigment has also at various points in history been difficult to obtain.
The popularity of a particular color depended on location and time period, since trade and development of new pigments play a key role in what is expensive! Blue was associated with royalty when pigment was only being made from lapis lazuli, a difficult to obtain stone. When synthetic blue pigment became available in Europe, it was no longer associated with wealth and royalty, as it was much easier to come by!
Woah, that's crazy. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom.
Was this stained glass originally like this, with the dark lines going through the painting? Or are these the result of some restoration work?
Yes, this is how the window has always looked!. The dark lines you see is the lead used to hold the pieces of glass together!This was a standard way of assembling a stained glass window in the 17th century. Large panes of glass were very expensive to make, which is why many smaller pieces were used.
Can you tell me more about this?
This stained glass window was made around 1620 and is Flemish in origin, but we do not know the artist's name. The seated woman, dressed in blue is the Virgin Mary. She is identified by her blue mantle which had been her signature garment since the Middle Ages.
Seeing this window up close is really interesting because you can examine the techniques used to make it. Much of the imagery was painted on the back of the glass giving it dimension when light shines through. The window was originally installed vertically. The reason it is shown is lying flat in the museum is because it is fragile.
Tell me more!
The color blue was reserved for the mantle of the Virgin Mary. The cobalt used to color glass was imported and expensive, which is why it was used sparingly and only for the most significant figure.
This would have originally been seen in a church. Scenes showing lives of holy figures like Mary were intended to educate and inspire the faithful. If you look at the background, you'll see a very detailed city view painted on the glass!
Tell me more.
You will notice that the Virgin Mary is often shown wearing a blue robe. The blue pigment used by artists in the seventeenth century was often made from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. Because it was so expensive, it was reserved for the holiest figure in the scene, which was often Mary.
Who are these men? Can you explain some context?
We're not actually sure, this is a somewhat unusual scene. Our best guess is that they are disciples of Jesus. It is possible that this is a Pentecost scene. The Pentecost took place 40 days after Christ's death in the presence of Mary and several disciples; traditionally, the event marks the beginning of their evangelical mission. Stained glass was one of the most widespread forms of painting in European church interiors. Scenes showing lives of holy figures were intended to educate and inspire the faithful. It is also important to remember that a stained glass window would be part of a larger story-telling scheme within the church.
What is painted glass window painted with?
In a window like this one, the paint would be "vitreous" or glass-based. The different colors were achieved with different mineral pigments.
How was the staining and coloring done at that time?
Most simply, pieces of glass were soldered together to create a background, almost like painting a canvas. Those are the black lines that you see running through the piece. Then, vitreous paint would be applied to clear soldered glass to create the image. In the Renaissance period, the glass itself was colored. Although this piece is post-Renaissance, its interpretation looks back to the earlier medieval or Gothic tradition.
Are there any special light conditions for the stained glass window, something that was meant to be in the light?
In stained glass, the pigment is fused with the glass. It is vitrified so it doesn't fade the way it would on fabric or paper. For this reason, we can display it backed by light without conservation concerns!
Was this made as one piece and then divided into sections? Or were all the pieces separate and then joined together?
This window was made from multiple pieces of glass that were joined with lead solder.
Where you see seemingly random lines, like across the man's face, marks separate pieces. Where you see lines that follow the composition, like along Mary's garments, the glass was cut to fit the composition.
How, exactly, does one stain glass?
To make this piece, the process of staining glass was similar to painting: the color and lines were brushed onto the back of the glass pieces. Instead of paint, though, it was more like a glaze that fused with the glass so it would stay. In previous centuries, most stained glass was made by mixing salts and minerals with the glass as it was formed, requiring it be cut into small pieces in order to create images. The new process of painting allowed for the high level of detail you can see in the faces and garments of the subjects.
Total newbie! Just checking things out. I'm curious, is the Virgin in reference here the Virgin Mary?
That is in fact the Virgin Mary. There are a number of images of the Virgin Mary in that section of Infinite Blue.
She can be identified by her blue mantle, which has been a common attribute for Mary in European art since Medieval times.
Do you know who is surrounding her? And what is she reading?
She is most likely reading the Hebrew Bible. Other than that we aren't certain what's going on in this unusual scene. These men may be the apostles and/or other followers of Christ.
The figures look like they are in fear.
They certainly are feeling strong emotion. The Virgin looks the calmest out of all of them which reflects the idea that early Christian leaders often looked to Mary for guidance in the years immediately following Christ's death. She was revered both for having been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, and for her own longstanding, close relationship with God beginning before his birth.
Can you tell me more about this?
Stained glass produced in the Low Countries in the 17th century was different from the medieval style because artists actually painted on the glass rather than composing a mosaic from pieces of different colored glass. Notice the curving lines used to describe the clothing worn by all the figures. This creates a sense of movement typical of Baroque art. This was a really big change because now the glass did not need to have thick black lead lines connecting the different pieces. The result is much more painterly.
Does the painted glass show Mary later in her life after the death of Christ?
Yes, the scene shows Mary as a teacher, spreading the word of Christ after his death.
This is an unusual depiction of the Virgin and we don't have extensive information on this work. I do know that Flemish and Netherlandish artists of the Northern Renaissance period took more artistic liberties with religious imagery than their Italian and Mediterranean counterparts.
I have found one somewhat similar scene by Netherlandish painter Jan Joest van Kalkar that depicts a celebration of the Pentecost, 40 days after the death of Christ. Our window lacks a literal representation of the holy spirit, but it does show Mary surrounded by men who are likely disciples.
In scenes of the Pentecost, Mary is the center of the celebration and it marks the beginning of the disciples' missions to spread the teachings of Christ.
I find it interesting that Mary appears to be instructing the men.
We and many of our visitors have found that interesting as well! I have found some information indicating that early disciples of Jesus Christ often looked to Mary for guidance as she had her own life-long relationship with God.
Still, this is an unusual visual depiction.This scene is missing the typical "tongues of fire" over each person's head, but it is important to remember that a church window would have been part of a larger decorative scheme that we're not seeing here today.
Thanks so much.
Where was this displayed?
This was originally a window in a church!
Stained glass was one of the most common forms of art in European church interiors.
Scenes showing the lives of holy figures were meant to educate and inspire the worshippers inside the church.
Many people could not read at this time, so visual images were another way to learn the stories and teachings of the Bible.