Color, light, impurity, and devotion in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s forgotten chapel

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ID_IC_MEIS_TIFFANY_AP_001Its interior was designed and constructed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Chapel is “the only complete and unaltered totally Tiffany designed religious interior known to exist in the world.” It is significant that the Chapel is a religious interior since Louis Comfort Tiffany was, as everyone knows, in love with stained glass. And stained glass is, more often than not, found in churches. Indeed, it was in the churches of medieval Europe that the art and craft of making stained glass windows reached its zenith. That was how Louis Tiffany saw it, anyway.

Tiffany began his artistic career as a painter. But he was never satisfied with painting. Tiffany was drawn to glass. Perhaps he was fated to love the shininess of glass, being the son of famous jewelry maker Charles Lewis Tiffany. Looking at all those precious stones in his father’s shops, a young Louis Tiffany became obsessed with light and color as it penetrates jewels like diamonds and rubies. The opaque surface of the painter’s canvas was never going to light up that way. But stained glass does. Have you ever seen the way evening light comes through the Gothic stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle in Paris? Then you know something of Tiffany’s obsession. Standing inside of Sainte Chapelle is like standing inside a jewel box.

Louis Comfort Tiffany wanted to learn the old secrets of getting color into glass. The stained glass of the 19th century couldn’t even begin to compare with the incredible work in the 13th century cathedrals. Tiffany figured out why. It was a matter of impurities. Stained glass doesn’t respond well to refinement, to the industrial techniques that were being used in the 19th century. You can mass-produce colored glass with those techniques, but you can’t make the artful, deeply colored glass like the old masters once made.

More here.