While preparing for the new series of stained glass courses I got to thinking about the design work that went into Gothic cathedral tracery. These stone pillars support and divide the leaded lights and so wonderfully illuminate, both physically and metaphorically, these old buildings.
Medieval stained glass
Looking over photographs of Chartres and York Minster cathedrals my mind wandered back to my mathematics and technical drawing classes at school. After all, much of the beauty in these old windows owes itself to the mathematical principles of the golden mean and the sacred geometry.
Whether you believe in Divine design or not, there is much satisfaction, to be gained in observing how the craftsmen of old put these windows together. Look at any Gothic stained glass window and you will see an array of equilateral triangles, circles and squares all delicately put together to form perfect symmetry.
These simple shapes are flipped, rotated and reversed in a complicated format to produce the awe inspiring lights we see in churches across the globe. It is fascinating how with nothing more than a compass and straight edge you can copy these designs and create your own Gothic, Norman or Tudor arches.
Strike an arc, join the intersecting points and you’ve got an arch Rotate a circle three or four times and you have perfect trefoils and cinquefoils. The repetition of of our most earliest geometric exercises at school allow us to accurately replicate the stained glass windows of the Medieval artisans.
Next time you find yourself beneath a perfectly constructed rose window, have a look at the way the shapes were constructed. A marvelous combination of straightforward geometrical shapes, creatively assembled.
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