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WAYSIDE ART IN EAST ANGLIA

PEOPLE

THE TREE OF JESSE

The Tree of Jesse is the term given to a family tree that shows the ancestors of Jesus.  Below is part of a stained glass window at Salle Church in Norfolk that has an exceptional example of a Tree of Jesse.  Although it is a relatively new window, it is very similar to one at Margaretting in Essex that was made in the reign of Henry VI.

STAINED GLASS WINDOWS

 

Pliny ‘the Elder’ (AD 23-79) in his book on Natural History writes about the discovery of glass-making.  He tells us that once upon a time the crew of a ship carrying soda disembarked on the shores of a river in Phoenicia to prepare a meal.  He explains that as ‘there were no stones to support their cooking pots they placed lumps of soda from their ship under them.  When these became hot and fused with the sand on the beach, streams of an unknown translucent liquid flowed.’  (Penguin Classics p.361 translated by John F. Healy 1991)

Pliny was referring to an event that happened well over two thousand years ago, so evidently the techniques of making glass, both clear and coloured, have been known since very ancient times.  The earliest surviving coloured glass in England dates from the second half of the twelfth century.  In the medieval period the only place you were likely to find coloured glass was in a church.  To the medieval Christian, light testified to the presence of God and windows had a highly spiritual significance as well as a practical purpose.

 

It is coloured glass that we usually refer to when we talk about stained glass.  But often we include painted glass when we use the term stained.  Painted glass is where paint is applied after colouring to give greater detail.  Exactly when paint was first applied to coloured glass is not known.  To achieve a wide variety of lines and modelling effects, a wide range of painting techniques is used, including smearing, dabbling and scratching the paint.

 

The earliest windows were grisaille, which is mainly white glass that is cut and leaded into patterns.  Stylized and conventional patterns were later replaced by more naturalistic designs, such as leaves and flowers.  It is in the depiction of foliage that the glass-painters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries excelled themselves.  Figures and scenes, which had at first been set within geometric shapes, were from the thirteenth century onwards placed under architectural canopies.  The first documented example of the use of heraldry in English stained glass is dated 1427 when Henry VI ordered that the royal arms with those of his late father-in-law be inserted into the windows of the hall at Rochester Castle.  After that heraldry became increasingly used in windows.  The lives of saints were also popular subjects throughout the Middle Ages.

 

Norfolk is particularly rich in fifteenth century stained glass windows, a period during which Norwich was an important glass-making centre.  A favourite design was the use of a border in which foliage was wrapped around a pole.  Records reveal that there were at least seventeen glass painters in Norwich between 1430 and 1470.  A Thomas Goldbeater, a man of considerable local importance who died in 1467, had both glaziers and painters as apprentices.  Glass was also imported.  A John Christopher Hampo of Norwich, who was an established cloth merchant in 1782 and one of the most astute and successful dealers of his time, imported large quantities of glass from Germany and France.

 

The art of glass painting stagnated after the Reformation, but flourished again during the Victorian period.  The Victorians used stained glass not only in churches but also on the front doors and bathroom windows of their houses, and even in pubs.  William Morris set up a studio for producing windows for arcades, public buildings, restaurants and hotels.

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