A dome of many-coloured glass

An ad hominem smackdown on solar energy from commenter Philip a few days ago:

You lack the analytic skills to participate in this argument, but unfortunately your partisanship and emotional needs blind you to that.

Ah well. Like most ad hominem attacks, this can be as true as it is fallacious (footnote). As a humble scribbler who knows his proper place, let me indulge myself and offer you a policy-free picture of a new cathedral in Saskatoon with photovoltaic stained glass (via CleanTechnica):


vancouver chapel







As an idea, it’s brilliant. It zaps the modern Cathar doom merchants with the old message of light and the new hope of technology. (See this old riff on the theory of Georges Duby, an eminent French historian, linking stained glass and ant-Catharism). Aesthetically, the glass strikes me as par for the course today, that is mediocre.

[Large image-laden page over the jump.]

By common consent, the art of stained glass hit its peak in the High Middle Ages, in the new Gothic cathedrals of 13th-century France. Here’s a small detail of the breathtaking ensemble of windows at Chartres:












From ground level, it’s nearly impossible to follow the Biblical stories. But you know they are there. The small pieces, held together in an intricate lead and iron frame, create a fractal richness. Late mediaeval glass is easier to follow, but lacks the magic-carpet effect.

Modern revivals have been patchy. The pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones achieved a reasonable standard:











Art nouveau also liked glass. The best was as usual Gaudi:

Gaudii glass








The modern movement of the twentieth century has had less success if you ask me. Matisse’s glass in the chapel at Vence is lightweight:















While Le Corbusier’s at Ronchamp is frankly kitsch:







The one notable 20th-century artist (assigning Gaudi to the 19th) who was really at home in the medium was Marc Chagall.This is his memorial to Dag Hammarskjold at the UN in New York:









Some of his best glass is in the synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem. I could not find another Jewish commission. Were the reservations of synagogue-builders about stained glass as such, or human representations, or Chagall’s Russian magical surrealism, edging close to superstition? So the finest Jewish artist of the 20th century designed a lot of lovely glass for Christian churches. Thank somebody.

Hadassah’s Zebulon:











Footnote 1 – Shelley
The post title is drawn from lines of Shelley’s memorial ode to Keats, Adonaïs, 1821:

Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity.

Footnote 2 - ad hominem attacks
They aren´t always a fallacy. Accusing someone of being a liar logically impugns his or her testimony on matters of fact. That´s why it´s a serious charge. Similarly accusing someone of being a fool impugns his or her judgement in the case under discussion. No personal failing affects the validity of inferences. You can´t insult mathematicians or logicians or programmers to logical effect.


  1. Dennis says



    What of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work in stained glass? There is a triptych of windows rescued from a Cincinnati church in the art museum there. They are pretty magnificent works.

  2. David T says


    Returning to solar: I went camping this weekend, staying in a forest service rustic cabin. I hadn’t used one in a while and was surprised to find a little solar panel on the roof, powering a small light and ceiling fan. How cool is that?

  3. NCG says


    Stained glass doesn’t have to be complicated to be beautiful. This little church in Seal Beach has beautiful windows, you can get a glimpse here: http://www.stannesealbeach.org/

    I love them and I love them the way I like Rothko better than that messy paintsplatter guy, Jackson I think? It’s probably an irrational preference and I do not care.

    This post is so much nicer than reading about philosophical disagreements about consciousness. If there were a Cliff Notes version of that, maybe I’d spend a few minutes. But philosophers don’t get me excited.