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Painting on Light: Stained Glass in the Medieval Tradition


York is uniquely rich in materials for the study of stained glass, which was among the most popular monumental media in the middle ages and beyond, inspired by the metaphysical value of light and the communicative power of illuminated images: the enamel-painted picture windows of the 16th-19th centuries were premised upon new thinking about the image, after the Reformation.

Not surprisingly, the medium also enjoyed a new popularity in the Gothic Revival of the 19th century, famously attracting the many talents of Morris & Co., but also supporting commercial firms to fill many thousands of windows in secular and sacred buildings across Europe and the United States.

Taking an international perspective, but with local visits, this module sets out to explore the issues that the medium raises, including the relationship to architectural settings, ways to read these striking images in context, the variety of their functions for different audiences, and the creative partnerships involved in the making of such monumental art.


  • To familiarise students with past and current trends in stained glass scholarship
  • To enable students to interrogate case-studies as a means of exploring themes and issues relevant to the scholarly discourse in the subject and to the wider art-historical discipline
  • To enable students to integrate the medium of stained glass into their wider study of art history
  • To suggest topics and themes for further research


Possible seminar outline

  • Introduction: Stained Glass and Architecture
  • The Middle Ages: Artists and Craftsmen, Making and Status
  • The Middle Ages: Patrons and Donors (Saint-Denis)
  • The Middle Ages: Reading and Meaning  Chartres and York Minster)
  • The Middle Ages: The Parish Church (All Saints North Street, York)
  • The Reformation: Rethinking the Image (St-Janskerk, Gouda and York Minster)
  • The Gothic Revival: Reading and Meaning, from the Sublime to the Mass Market (Strawberry Hill and the Great Exhibition)
  • The Gothic Revival: Artists and Craftsmen (Capronnier and Morris & Co)

Preliminary Reading

  • Brown, S., Stained Glass at York Minster, London, 1999
  • Camille, M., The Gothic Idol, Ideology and Image Making in Medieval Art, Cambridge, 1990
  • Eire, C., War against the Idols, Cambridge and New York , 1986
  • Hamburger, J. F. and A.-M. Bouché, The Mind's Eye, Art and Theological Argument in the Middle Ages, Princeton, 2006
  • Harrison, M., Victorian Stained Glass, London/Melbourne/Sydney/ Auckland/Johannesburg, 1980
  • Marks, R., Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, London, 1993
  • Marks, R., 'Medieval Stained Glass: Recent and Future Trends in Scholarship', Journal of Stained Glass, XXIV (2000), pp.62–79
St William on Ouse Bridge, stained glass in York Minster

Module information

  • Module title
    Painting on Light: Stained Glass in the Medieval Tradition
  • Module number
  • Convenor
    Tim Ayers

For postgraduates