stained glass prettiness

I’ll admit it, I don’t particularly care for decorative stained glass. My only exception would be rose windows in churches (but that’s mostly due to my love of Christian architecture). Stained glass was apparently quite a thing in the US from the late-19th century to the 20th, but I’m not too familiar with that history.

Below is a detail from “Peacocks and Peonies I” (1882) by John La Farge. This piece of stained glass is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Seeing it up close, you notice the texture and dimensionality of the glass and the amazing intricacy of each piece. The Met also has a bunch of stained glass, but usually I’m too busy in the European paintings galleries to bother venturing all the way over to the American Wing. And unlike the Met, all the Smithsonian museums in DC are free! As in really free, and not fake free with strongly suggested donations accompanied by dirty looks.

I don’t have anything against the medium, but I ain’t won over by it. Stained glass lacks that sense of artistic freedom and artist’s hand that is so obvious in painting. There’s something so craft, so conscious and deliberate about stained glass. It’s not something you can slap together in a fit of inspiration, or change course midway, or go back and alter. It just … is. And though that is compelling in its own way, I find that the hardness of the material creates an inherent sense of static distance with me, the viewer. Pretty. Just not my cup of tea.

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