Examples of Writing in Stained Glass

Shown below is a selection of panels showing details of the writing, placed in date order. Looking at examples in our collection, it seems that early inscriptions on glass are commonly white writing on a black background. The area would have been completely painted with black enamel, then the writing would have been scraped out using something like a sharp stick.

By the early 1300s, the writing is black on a white background. The skill of working with black enamels has improved greatly, and shading and stippling techniques make the images far more painterly. The writing continues to become more refined and ornamental.

Beatrix van Valkenburg panel and a detail of the writing.
Beatrix van Valkenburg panel and a detail of the writing.

Beatrix van Valkenburg

English, late 13th century

Sacrifice of Isaac panel and a detail of the writing.
Sacrifice of Isaac panel and a detail of the writing.

Sacrifice of lsaac

German, 1278, from the church of St.Thomas, Strasburgh

The Visitation panel and a detail of the writing.
The Visitation panel and a detail of the writing.

The Visitation

German, late 14th century

Annunciation panel and a detail of the writing.
Annunciation panel and a detail of the writing.

Annunciation of the Virgin

English, Hampton Court, 1400-1430

Judgement of Solomon panel and a detail of the writing.
Judgement of Solomon panel and a detail of the writing.

Judgement of Solomon

German, Cologne, early 15th century

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba panel and a detail of the writing.
Solomon and the Queen of Sheba panel and a detail of the writing.

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

German, Cologne, early 15th century

St Barbara panel and a detail of the writing.
St Barbara panel and a detail of the writing.

St Barbara

German, Rhineland, early 15th Century

Arms within Garter of Sir Henry Fitzhugh panel and a detail of the writing.
Arms within Garter of Sir Henry Fitzhugh panel and a detail of the writing.

Arms within Garter of Sir Henry Fitzhugh

English, early 15th century

Crucifixion panel and a detail of the writing.
Crucifixion panel and a detail of the writing.

Crucifixion

English, 1450-1500

St John the Evangelist and a kneeling Soldier panel and a detail of the writing.
St John the Evangelist and a kneeling Soldier panel and a detail of the writing.

St John the Evangelist and a kneeling Soldier

Probably from the church of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, England, 15th century

St Mary Magdalen panel and a detail of the writing.
St Mary Magdalen panel and a detail of the writing.

St Mary Magdalen

English, 15th century

St Nicholas Preventing an Execution panel and a detail of the writing.
St Nicholas Preventing an Execution panel and a detail of the writing.

St Nicholas Preventing an Execution

South Netherlandish, 1509-1513

St Francis panel and a detail of the writing.
St Francis panel and a detail of the writing.

St Francis

Swiss, 1671

The decoration on Greek vases from Athens between the 6th and 4th centuries BC show a parallel to the white on black then black on white writing in stained glass, but in reverse. The decoration begins with black figure decoration, where the leather hard pot has the images painted on with a slip (runny clay mix) which, when fired in a reducing kiln, causes the slipped areas to turn black – black figures on a red background. Around 530BC, the technique changes with the whole pot being coated with slip, then the images are picked out by scrapping away the slip resulting in red figures on a black background. More sutle details could then be added with lines or dilute washes of glaze applied with a brush.

Red and Black Figure Greek Vases
Red and Black Figure Greek Vases

Other famous writing on glass includes Robert Burn’s verse written on a pane in the globe Tavern, Dumfries:

Robert Burn’s verse written on a pane in the Globe Tavern, Dumfries
Robert Burn’s verse written on a pane in the Globe Tavern, Dumfries

Gin a body meet a body

Coming through the grain.

Gin a body kiss a body

The thing’s a body’s ain.

[Image from: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/56181000/jpg/_56181517_burns_window_etching.jpg}

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