History of Stained Glass
Stained glass in its origins was basically a Christian art. There are artistic links between early glass and both mosaics and enamel work; the earliest windows were simply openings with a lattice work of wood or marble, into which coloured glass was inserted. The ability to pour molten lead into a framework around glass pieces opened up a new era of window construction.
The earliest windows are considered to have been in German churches around 1050 AD. In the 1100's, the French were the first to establish the Gothic Era of cathedral glass (massive and colourful windows to match the size and grandeur of gothic churches). The glass makers themselves were called glaziers, and most never left their signature or mark on their artwork. However, during the middle ages, they belonged to very powerful "guilds". Companies that built stained glass would be under contract with these guilds and could not produce windows without an "official" glazier being on site.
Each of the European countries developed its own unique artistic statements in church window making, i.e. the Flemish tradition of the Low Countries was at a "high" point in the 15th century. Art forms on glass expanded to include heraldry, scenes of nature, tributes and portraitures.
However, in the 17th and 18th centuries, glass making almost died. Much of the glass was destroyed or damaged. It wasn't until the 19th century that a "revival" of glass making occurred. By the late 19th century, the glass maker William Morris became the "standard" to which comparisons were made. Glass now became popular, practical and within the financial reach of the nouveau riche.
Articles on this topic often appear in this magazine: Stained Glass, The Quarterly of the Stained Glass Association of America, P.O. Box 22642, Kansas City, Mo, USA, 64113. Also, some colourful and very readable books on this subject are:
A Thousand Years of Stained Glass - Amazon.com
Catherine Brisac: Chartwell Books Inc., 1984.
Great Glass in America Architecture - Amazon.com
H. Weber Wilson, E.P. Dutton, 1986.