LEADLIGHT

LEADLIGHT V's STAINED GLASS

Leadlight windows are decorative and made of pieces of clear or coloured glass held together in strips of lead called ‘cames’. The Romans and Byzantines created lead light windows as long ago as the first century of the modern era.

 

The terms leadlight and stained glass have unfortunately become synonymous. This site will focus mainly on leadlight windows.

 

Leadlight windows differ from stained glass. Stained glass typically uses clear pieces of glass on which patterns or images have been painted. These pieces of glass are then fired in a kiln to 'fix' the image. Stained glass windows are frequently found in churches and significant public buildings such as the Sydney Town Hall. They are extremely labour intensive to make and therefore are considerably more expensive and, understandably, are rarely seen in domestic situations. Stained glass windows are pictorial and usually elaborate because their intent is narrative. They are celebratory and they have a story to tell. They convey intent or message (whether religious or declamatory). They were commissioned works of art and painted by artists. Without doubt, stained glass windows are beautiful; sometimes 'jaw droppingly' beautiful.

 

Traditional leadlight windows are far more common than stained glass windows.  From the 1860s Victorian era to the Art Deco period of the 1930s they were a regular architectural feature in many private dwellings in Sydney, most typically Federation and Californian bungalows.

Leadlight windows are generally non-pictorial and contain geometric designs, formalised plant motifs and designs resembling draped ribbons through to the angular and modernistic designs of the Art Deco period. Their purpose was to beautify rather than to narrate. But in their designs is a social narrative that recounts the influences present at the time of their making. This could be the rigidity of the Victorian period, the nationalism of Federation, the social flux and fluidity of the 1920's and the march towards modernism, the depression and World War 2. 

Leadlight windows are usually geometric and formalised in their design even when they employ plant and drapery style motifs. They frequently use ‘quarries’; pieces of glass cut into regular, tessellating geometric patterns such as squares, diapers, rectangles or diamonds. They are almost usually symmetrical, either in one window or where the design spreads across two, three or more windows. In some of the best Art Nouveau/Federation designs they could be widely eccentric!

I find leadlight windows incredibly appealing because they are handmade, meant to create a thing of beauty and became an increasingly domestic item through the 1920's. After World War 2 they were rarely made again on such a scale.

 

Leadlight and stained glass in the Queen Victoria Building with heraldic and Celtic motives 1898

A geometric leadlight window in pastel colours in Haberfield using regular 'quarries'. Early Federation with late Victorian influences 1905

A 3 panel casement window with Art Nouveau influenced fluidity and symmetry 1915.

The angular and modernistic designs showing the influence of Art Deco. Ashbury 1920's

© 2019 Colin Webb