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inston opens his Inquiry by distinguishing among “three distinct systems of glass-painting, which for convenience sake may be termed the Mosaic method; the Enamel method; and the Mosaic Enamel method,” the first of these being essentially windows made of pieces of colored “pot metal” glass, held together by leadlines, with at most some silver — i.e. yellow — staining and application of brown enamel (Fig.1); the second being clear glass to which enamel paint of many colors has been applied (Fig. 2); and the last, as the name implies, a combination of the first and the second (Fig. 3).

Left: Figure 1. St John the Evangelist hands the Palm to the Jew. St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, now in Burrell Collection, Glasgow. Fifteenth-century. Middle: Figure 2. Francis Eginton. East Window, St. Paul, Birmingham. Right: Figure 3. Everhard Rensig and/or Gerhard Remisch. Esau gives up his Birthright; Jacob and Esau with the Mess of Pottage. 1521.

Of the three, Winston asserts, the Mosaic system, which “as now practised may [. . .] be considered a revival of the system which prevailed throughout the Middle Ages and until the middle of the sixteenth century,” is “admirably adapted to the nature of the material.” It is “unsuited for mere picturesque effect” and has “the flat and hard, though brilliant character of an ancient oil painting.” In contrast, the glass painters of the sixteenth century, excited by the “extraordinary efforts then achieved in oil painting, by which the hard and dry illumination of the Middle Ages was transformed into a beautiful picture, glowing with the varied tints of nature, and expressing to the eye, by a nice gradation of colouring, the relative position of near and distant objects [. . .] strove to render their own art more completely an imitation of nature and to produce in a transparent material the atmospheric and picturesque effects so successfully exhibited by the reflective surfaces of oil and fresco paintings.” Their efforts were facilitated by the “discovery of the various enamel colours about the middle of the sixteenth century,” which led rapidly to their “extensive employment.” By the eighteenth century these had “entirely superseded the use of coloured glasses in large works.” This development, however, was “not without its disadvantages. The paintings lost in transparency what they gained in variety of tint; and in proportion as their picturesque qualities were increased by the substitution of enamel colouring for coloured glass, their depth of colour sensibly diminished.” 60

The essential rule is that, while the modern artist in stained glass should not consider medieval practice the ne plus ultra of his art but rather “should endeavour to develop its resources to the fullest extent, he ought not to seek excellencies which are incompatible with its inherent properties. [. . .] The artist who undertakes to practise glass painting should bear in mind that he is dealing with a material essentially different from any with which he has hitherto been familiar, and his first object should be to obtain a thorough knowledge of the peculiarities and of the extent of the available means of his art.” Glass, in sum, is not canvas or wood. “The chief excellence of a glass painting is its translucency. A glass painting by possessing the power of transmitting light [. . .] is able to display effects of light and colour with a brilliancy and vividness quite unapproachable by any other means” (pp. 238-39). But one important consequence of this same “diaphanous quality” is a “limited scale of colour and of transparent shadow [. . .] of which its inherent flatness is a necessary result.”

Another characteristic of stained glass is the indispensable part played in it by its mechanical construction – i.e. “lead-work and saddle-bars,” which it is impossible to conceal on account of their opacity. The specific features of glass painting thus “render it unfit for the representation of certain subjects. Such as essentially demand a picturesque treatment are better suited to an oil or water colour painting than to a glass painting,” inasmuch as the latter is “incapable of those nice gradations of colour and of light and shade, which are indispensable for close imitations of nature and for producing the full effect of atmosphere and distance.” The subjects “best suited to glass paintings,” Winston proposes, “are ornamental patterns, and a variety of other designs capable of being properly represented in a simple, hard, and somewhat flat manner; by broad masses of stiff colouring, hard outlines, and vivid contrasts of light and shade” (pp. 240-41).

Nonetheless, Winston emphasizes that he is “by no means” of “the opinion that a glass painting is to be estimated merely in proportion to its sparkling brilliancy and the beauty of its colours, without regard to its pictorial qualities.” If that were the case, “pattern glass paintings would always be preferred to picture glass paintings.” He would claim only that “the best picture glass painting is that which most fully combines the qualities of a good picture, with a display of the diaphanous property of glass” (p. 242).

In the end, of the three “systems of glass painting” that Winston identifies at the beginning of his work, the modern artist is advised to adopt the Mosaic system “because under this system the most brilliant effects of light and colour can be produced. [. . .] Whether it is white or coloured, [the glass] is equally transparent; but this is not the case in general with the glass either of an Enamel or a Mosaic Enamel glass painting. In these paintings such portions of the picture as are coloured either wholly or in part with enamels, are not so transparent as the white parts.” As for the more limited scale of colour available in the Mosaic system, that is “more than counterbalanced by its superiority over the Enamel in strength of colour, and over the Mosaic Enamel, as well as the Enamel, in point of brilliancy” (p. 242). As, in addition, the leadlines play a constructive and formative role in the Mosaic system, whereas they are confusing and distracting in the other two systems, Winston feels he is “justified in concluding that the Mosaic system of glass painting is, on the whole, the best system to be adopted.”65

The two systems involving enamel paint come in, in fact, for quite severe criticism, even though Winston distinguishes between good and bad practitioners of them. Thus the custom of “heightening the deeper shadows with broad, smear, unstippled patches, or dabs of Enamel brown [. . .] in the Dutch glass paintings of the latter half of the sixteenth century and the works of the Van Linge school, coupled with the absence of clear lights, [. . .] transformed glass paintings from translucent pictures, to objects scarcely exceeding in actual transparency, fresco, or oil paintings” ( p. 257). In general, the works of the Van Linge school are “overpainted,” “dull,” and “heavy.”67 As for the nineteenth-century Bavarians, who “have adopted the Mosaic Enamel system,” “their practice is to spread a very heavy coat of white enamel all over the back of the glass,” “with the object probably of reducing the brilliancy of the manufactured coloured glass to a level with the dullness of the glass coloured with enamel colours.” “The work in consequence assumes a dull, heavy, and substantial appearance, quite opposed to the translucent and unsubstantial character of a true glass painting.” Indeed, “some of the smaller works of the Munich school rather resemble in their opacity and high finish paintings on porcelain than glass paintings” (pp.256, and 256n. (The order of the passages cited has been slightly altered.)

Nonetheless, as noted earlier, Winston insists that mere imitation of the work of medieval stained glass artists will not in itself produce good work and warns against “the error of regarding a conformity with style, not as an accessory to the glass painting, but as constituting the sole end and essential object of the work.” It is to be deplored that at the present time “a copy, or mere compilation, scarcely rising in merit above a copy, of some ancient glass [. . .] is so often preferred to a design, which attempts, however artistically, to carry out an ancient style in spirit, rather than in conventionality only” (p. 283) and that “the great majority of the English glass paintings of the revived Mosaic style are either direct copies of an original work or mere compilations in which each individual part is taken from some ancient example” (p. 213). Claiming that the art of glass painting had not yet “attained that perfection of which it is susceptible” when its decline set in as a result of “the peculiar circumstances of the sixteenth century,” Winston announces that he does not accept “the generally received opinions of the age”— i.e. that it is essential to return to medieval practice. Instead, he advocates, “as the surest means of effecting the true advancement of the art, the total relinquishment of all copies or imitations of ancient glass whatsoever, whether perfect or imperfect in themselves; and the substitution of a new and original style of glass painting, founded on the most perfect practice of the Mosaic system and sufficiently comprehensive to include within itself designs of the most varied character, some for instance bearing a resemblance to Early English glass paintings, some to Decorated glass paintings, and so forth, without however ceasing to belong to the nineteenth century or degenerating into imitations.” In short, the goal must be “unfettering the artist from the trammels of conventionality, and leaving him free to pursue such a course as a deep and philosophical consideration of the whole subject would lead him to embrace” (p. 284).

Dogmatic adherence to convention of any kind is rejected. “The most rigid adherence to antiquarianism cannot compensate for a want of art.” “I say, by all means throw antiquarianism overboard, if it and art are not capable of a union under existing circumstances.”72 Winston’s insistence that modern stained glass should be modern and that it should reflect modern artistic sensibilities and movements led him to moderate and refine his criticism of the Bavarians:

In Germany, instead of the revival of the Mosaic system, we see the adoption of the Mosaic Enamel, purified of such of its defects as are not absolutely inherent; and instead of mere imitations of ancient authorities, the bold and undisguised development of a new and original style, apparently having for its object an union of the severe and excellent drawing of the early Florentine oil-paintings, with the arrangement of the glass-painting of the former half, and the colouring of those of the second half, of the sixteenth century. There is thus no danger of confounding the productions of the Munich school with those of the Middle Ages. [pp. 213-14]

So, while he is convinced that “the adoption in Germany of the Mosaic system [instead of the Mosaic Enamel system] would be attended with beneficial results,” he is “compelled to admit that the artistical character of the Munich glass-paintings in general, renders that school at the present moment on the whole superior to all those which have arisen since the beginning of the seventeenth century.”74 Ultimately, better “art without transparency” than “transparency without art.”75


In this web version some of the original endnotes have been converted to in-text page citations, so the notes below do not form a complete sequence.

60 Winston, Inquiry, pp. 4-8 (Italics in text). For an excellent, somewhat differently focused summary of Winston’s ideas and influence, see A. Charles Sewter, The Stained Glass of William Morris and his Circle, pp. 5-9.

65 Winston, Inquiry, p. 245. As A. Charles Sewter put it, referring to Jervais’ window in New College, Oxford, on which Joshua Reynold’s “Virtues” are represented without the interruption of regular bar-lines and with a minimum of lead-lines, “the idea seems to have been widely held that both bar-lines and lead-lines were annoying interruptions of the painted representation, and if they could be eliminated entirely, so much the better.” (The Stained Glass of William Morris and his Circle, p. 5)

72 Winston, Memoirs (as in note 52 above), p. 28. Letters to C.H. Wilson, 12 and 16 March 1857. The context was the negotiations with Munich over the windows that had been commissioned for Glasgow Cathedral: it was desirable that these should take account of the architectural context of the thirteenth century building, Winston held, but not at the cost of art. In the end, art trumps all other considerations.

74 Winston, Inquiry. Winston seems to have been well aware of the influence on the Munich school glass designers (Hess, Schraudolf, Schwind) of the Nazarene artists (Overbeck, Führich, Schnorr von Carolsfeld), who at the time had won for Germany a reputation as “la patrie de l’art régénéré, la seconde Italie de l’Europe moderne.” (Chares-René Forbes. Comte de Montalembert, “Du Vandalisme en France: lettre à M. Victor Hugo,” Revue des Deux-Mondes, 2nd series, [1833], 1:421-68, on p. 425) He did not consider the Munich designers mere copiers of an earlier style in painting and therefore subject to the same criticism as that directed at the English stained glass makers.

75 Winston, Memoirs, p. 36, letter from Winston to C.A. Wilson, 15 August 1857. Winston’s moderate position compared to that of dogmatic Gothic revivalists can be gauged by comparing the views expressed both in his Inquiry and in his Memoirs with the far more conservative position adopted by Viollet-le-Duc in the article “Vitrail” in Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française:

Nous avons entendu maintes fois répéter: ‘Que si les vitraux des XIIe et XIIIe siècles sont beaux, ce n’est pas une raison pour reproduire éternellement les meilleurs types qu’ils nous ont laissés; qu’il faut tenir compte des progrès faits dans le domaine des arts; que ces figures archaïques ne sont plus dans nos goûts, etc.’ Certes, il n’est point nécessaire de calquer éternellement ces types des beaux temps de la peinture sur verre, de faire des pastiches en un mot; mais ce qu’il ne faut point perdre de vue, ce sont les procédés d’art si habilement appliqués alors à cette peinture; ce qu’il faut éviter (parce que cela n’est pas un progrès, mais bien une décadence), c’est cette transposition d’une forme de l’art dans une autre qui lui est opposée. Avec plus de persistance que de bonne foi, on affecte souvent de nous ranger parmi les fanatiques du passé, parce que nous disons : ‘Profitez de ce qui s’est fait; faites mieux si vous pouvez, mais n’ignorez pas les chemins déjà parcourus, les résultats déjà obtenus dans le domaine des arts.’ [9.385-86)]

Created 7 June 2016