At the time I was making this window, I wasn't making videos,
so this is an enhanced slideshow explaining both the symbolism and the techniques
involved to create this highly complex work using only traditional stained glass methods.
To see a more detailed video of how such a work is made. Have a look at my Shanghai Roses Film.
I was asked by the client to create a Window using Medieval Symbolism but the use of the material and the subject matter was left in my hands.
On the occasion I was asked to undertake this project, I had spent several days with the client and saw often a copy of a tapestry of the Lady with the Unicorn.
This seemed an appropriate theme and I began with this as the main subject for the window. Several of the motifs and qualities that interested me in the tapestry have been used in the window.
Musé National du Moyen Age (aka Cluny Museum) in Paris.
Images and concepts drawn from this source.The woman and Unicorn, The symbol of the Lion. The concept of the carpet of flowers. The presence of the trees. I used one instead of two placing the group directly in the shade of the tree. I made the tree, The Tree of Life as described in the Book of Revelation. The background colour of red also seemed appropriate.
Most of the images and symbolism used in the Medieval period had a religious interpretation. I have used the symbolism in this work for its decorative qualities.
I decided to set this scene in Paradise which in the Middle Ages was assumed to be an unreachable or undiscovered part of the earth. Paradise was typically imagined as an enclosed space or an island. The theme of the Woman and the Unicorn is very old and implies a state and time of innocence. The main group is the Woman and the Unicorn, She has a Lamb in her lap and behind her shoulder is a Lion. They sit beneath the Tree of Life from which descends a Serpent. The tree contains the many fruits and blossoms as described in Revelation, and the group sits on a bed of flowers. (see the symbols list below) As I worked on the designs, the group of figures got pushed further back into the composition and I formed three distinct areas within the space: Heaven, Paradise and Earth. At the top of the window therefore is Heaven where on both sides Angels playing musical instruments swoop into the scene. These I drew from medieval illuminated manuscripts. The area of Heaven is separated from Paradise by the firmament. The Tree of life reaches from Paradise and has a tentative contact to the area of Heaven. The theme of separation of Paradise from Earth is achieved by the other main theme of the window, water. For the foreground I found another symbol that I have frequently used in some form, the fountain. I also found a link with the story of the Unicorn so it seemed doubly relevant here. As can be seen from this illustration, I have adapted and used several of the symbols from this illustration Taken from this source The shape and form of the fountain The pheasant drinking The other birds The water pouring from the mouth of the decorative lion The Unicorn Is Found (detail), ca. 1495-1505 Southern Netherlands The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Unicorn A lunar, feminine symbol, with the lion as the male; chastity , purity, virginity, perfect good, virtue, and strength of mind and body; incorruptibility. Unicorns are sometimes depicted on either side of the tree of Life as guardians. The conflict between the lion and the unicorn represents solar and lunar powers and the pairs of opposites. Lion As a solar symbol it represents; masculinity, the heat of the sun, the splendour and power of the noon sun. The fire principle, majesty and strength. They can also be seen as guardians of the Tree of Life and represent vigilance and courage. The symbolic representation of the lion and the unicorn are also underpinned by the presence of the sun and the moon. Lamb, Gentleness, young innocence, meekness, purity, the unblemished. The lamb with the lion depicts the paradisal state. The Serpent When associated with the Tree of Life, its aspect is beneficent. Angels Messengers of God, a link between heaven and this world. The word comes from Angelos which means messenger. Symbols include: flaming swords, trumpets, sceptres, musical instruments, lilies. The Firmament The firmament divides the upper or celestial from the lower or terrestrial waters. The Hebrew word means something beaten or hammered out, it could also be imagined as a great vault of crystal to which the fixed stars were attached. The Fountain representing a source of the water of life that gushes freely forth nourishing the earth. Symbol of waters of life, immortality and eternal youth The Tree The tree of life and the tree of knowledge grow in Paradise. , the tree of life is at the centre and signifies regeneration, the return to the primordial state of perfection. the tree of life, which bare twelve [manner of] fruits, [and] yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree [were] for the healing of the nations. Rev 22:2 The Birds Linking Paradise with our world. Birds can represent the human desire to escape from gravity and the laws of this physical world, to reach the level of the angel. Border Violets, dogwood and strawberries, at the base water-plants and fish. The symbol of the bee was important to the commissioner and several are included. Other Symbols Wheat and Grapes are traditional Medieval symbols. Fish and a frog on the lily pad, a robin and a kingfisher. Lily of the valley, strawberries and violets. The two Dragons at the base are representations from the staircase feature within the house. Flowers and Blossom both symbols of young life and may represent spring and the fragile nature of childhood. The flower is often a symbol of beauty and the colour adds to the symbolic meaning, red is love and passion, white is innocence. Technique
This work is one of the most technically complex windows ever made. It is made from entirely traditional techniques. The glass is known as Flashed, (a thin layer of colour) on a thicker base of normally clear glass. This can be etched away using a special acid. The glass is mouth-blown and many of the glass sheets used in this window are unique. The glass is cut by hand. The glass was etched many times to create this multi-faceted quality. Traditional black glass paint was painted over the entire window creating half tomes and lines. This was then fired at 650�C fusing the paint to the surface of the glass. The yellow colour is achieved by using another ancient technique called silver-staining. This is again painted on where required and fired into the outside of the glass. When all the etching and painting processes are completed, the pieces were then leaded together to create the panels seen.