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.

The Chair of Saint Peter

berninni_2Not to long ago I was talking to a priest I had met through my mom.  During the pleasant conversation we had, he started to talk to me about his recent trip to Italy.  He is a brilliant man with passion for art.  He takes classes when time allows to learn the techniques and methods of artist that lived centuries ago.  During this visit he toured many of these famous works or art and mentioned how life-changing it was to see in person.  However, even with the vast amount of beauty he saw, he talked extensively about the artist and sculpture Giovanni Bernini, and his masterpiece, Cathedra Petri (The Chair of Saint Peter).

Giovanni was asked to create this work of art for St. Peter’s Basilica.  He created a work of art around the chair which was believed to belong to St. Peter himself.  As you start to look upward from the chair you will notice the beautiful sculpture work that surrounds the stained glass which sits above the chair.  The clouds on either side of the chair provide a feeling of ascension up toward the holy spirit.   At the same time the cloudsBerninni_4 can also be interpreted as offering the feeling of declension to our world.  Some also look at the clouds as providing a sense of depth thrusting the chair forward.  Around the stained glass features angles who frame and bring focus to the holy spirit.  A dove, which is one of the most common symbols for the holy spirit, is represented in the center of the window.   Using stained glass, and possibly the use of enamel paint, a white light illuminates from the dove.  As you look further out from the center, rays burst outward through the stained glass and continue through the sculpture.  The rays continue to push through the clouds that surround the angles, showing the strength and brilliance of the holy spirit.  Bernini’s masterpiece, Catherdra Petri,  is complimented by its surroundings and sits under one of the greatest architectural accomplishments of its time, Michelangelo’s dome.

Bernini gave us a true masterpiece.  It combines architectural design, magnificent sculptures, and beautiful stained glass.  It sits in one of the most famous cathedrals berninni_3in the world. In the coming days I will go into detail on Bernini’s stained glass work within the piece, what it means to me and how we can apply lessons learned to modern works.

A Stained Glass Revolution

As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my mom at work while she worked in various churches as a music minister all over the state. For years, I would go and listen to my mom play and sing beautiful music. As much as I loved hearing my mom sing, it also meant as a kid I had a lot of free time on my hands while I waited for my mom to finish working. Before I ever got my hands on a Game Boy I had to use my imagination and my environment to keep myself busy. For years I stared at these big windows of color wondering how they got there, how old they were and how they were built. I was fascinated with how light manipulated the images. One day the windows would be full of life and the next day they would appear dreary and colorless. I remember thinking to myself how neat it would be to make some of my own big, colorful windows.

Years later my dream became a reality. For the last several years I have been heavily invested in the world of stained glass. I have worked through many of the techniques and skills available in the craft. I have also worked on many styles of windows – from simple geometric diamond lights to robust historical windows in religious and non-religious buildings around the tri-state area.

Christ and the Apostles
A beautiful Tiffany window built in 1890.

Traditional religious and non-religious windows are beautiful and inspiring. Residential environmental, geometric, or seascape scenes can also be a wonderful addition to a home. However, these styles have been around for years. While I’m sure they will never completely go out of style, these traditional approaches lack interest from the everyday Joe. It is true that contemporary/modern stained glass artwork appeals to some people with “refined” art pallets, but for most it is just another piece of art with weird lines and shapes.

Most people see these works of art and talk about how beautiful they are, yet many still dream of having these types of art work in their homes. They will settled for cheap machine made pieces of “art”  in their doors and windows, or overpay for a sun catcher that lacks quality in its design and fabrication. They believe the artwork seen in these buildings are unobtainable- a dying art.

What if wasn’t unobtainable? What if the everyday Joe could obtain some of the jaw dropping works of art you see in religious buildings and various other places across the world? What if you could own replicas of your favorite paintings or other styles of art work, and see them in an art medium that you’ve never seen them before? What if you could take modern day interest and twist them with traditional styling of stained glass to produce a new revolution of artwork people could have in their homes? What if you could view this anywhere in your home without being restricted to windows or sunlight? What if you could use multiple senses to immerse your viewing experience – to tell a story?

Stained glass is the lens of light. It gives light a way to speak to you and I – to represent your greatest passions in a way you’ve never seen before. Stay with me as I look into starting a stained glass revolution. Learn more about past traditions, guidelines, techniques, and sample demonstrations. Let’s take that traditional understanding with what you love and twist it into a modern day masterpiece. It will be possible to appreciate art in a whole new way, where your desired artwork will become the eyes of light.