The Chair of Saint Peter: Stained Glass

In my last blog I gave an overview of Giovanni Bernini’s masterpiece, Cathedra Petri (The Chair of Saint Peter).  Today I wanted to take a closer look at the stained glass within the .

***Please Note: Currently I don’t have a way to head on down to Italy to view the window in person.  I have used various pictures across to the web to get the best read of the window I could.  Also, this is just on overview of the window.  While I mention some basic technical information I decided to keep it general so those of you unfamiliar with the stained glass design/building process wont be overwhelmed.  I hope to do some technical demonstration posts in the future.  But for today, were just going to relax and get the overall feel for what the work of art is. Here we go!

As I mentioned Bernini uses a dove at the center of the window as the representation of the holy spirit.  Upon closer inspection of the window the painting of the dove, as well as the rays that travel outward are fairly simple in design and execution.  It does seem that Bernini did work with some enamels (in addition to a lead based paint) to get the full effect of the white light illuminating from the Holy Spirit.  It is difficult to tell if he used a glass with an amber tint, if he used silver stained (a chemical based compound that stained the glass a golden yellow) or possibly a combination of the two.  Bernini wasn’t a stained glass artist.  While he understood the craft and could execute it effectively, he was not devoted to stained glass relative to other stained glass artists throughout history.  For some comparison you can find stained glass with beautifully complex painted figures from artists such as Albinas Elskus or Harry Clarke.

A window by Albinas Elskus

Simplicity runs throughout the window as the glazing ( the process in which the window is fabricated) is basic in its design.  Small similar colored glass is put together within lead came, soldered and weatherproofed using putty.  These panels were put into the oval shaped steel frame.  The heavy black lines you see are not lead but steel beams that divide the sections of the glass panels.  Those beams are all part of the overall steel frame.  The oval is intentional in its design as it gives the sense of constant motion spiraling around as we continue down our path towards reaching the holy spirit.  Bernini created a free moving stage through Cathedra Petri.  It gave a new feeling of life and was much less definitive than most works of art during this time.  Even though Bernini wasn’t a truly devoted stained glass artist, understanding the beauty of the art, he used this stained glass piece as the focal point of the entire cathedral.  Upon entering, this window that symbolizes the holy spirit demands your attention – the eye of God.  

A window by Harry Clarke
A window by Harry Clarke

Interestingly, looking at a close up of the window you can see errors in the stained glass panels themselves.  You will notice some lead lines that don’t follow the flow of the window.  These leads are most likely breaks that happened in the fabrication of the window, transportation to the cathedral or during the installation process.  Sometimes these errors may have a symbolism behind them but for these particular breaks I could not find any mention of this throughout my research.  The out of place lead lines you see are covering cracks in the glass not anticipated in the original design.  Due to the simplicity of the panel these errors are easy to spot when you are viewing a close up of the window.  While this doesn’t affect the beauty of what Bernini created, these errors are almost comforting to see.  It shows that even the most talented artists have errors within their work.  That only God is perfect.

Now that we have taken a closer look into the stained glass and we continue to move forward, I will go into detail on what this masterpiece means to me and how the lessons I’ve learned form it can be applied to our every day lives.

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