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  • Maggie Courtis

Subjects for your Stained Glass Art

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

3 stained glass works: a contemporary window in geometric shapes, a Tiffany lampshade, a cathedral window

Stained glass is a beautiful art form with a history dating thousands of years. People have worked with glass as an art form throughout the ages, but the past fifty years have been an exciting period where we have seen glass art blossom using newly developed technology and different types of materials and equipment.


The style of the subject matter for glass art can representational, nonrepresentational, or Victorian.

Representational Designs

The piece can be representational, meaning it represents a recognizable subject. That can be realistic or abstracted. Think of this Picasso painting, Guernica. You can recognize the abstracted humans and the animals, but it isn’t realistic.

Pablo Picasso's Guernica painting

This Tiffany Studios lamp depicting magnolias is also representational, but much more realistic than the Picasso.

a Tiffany lamp, magnolia flowers in pink

One of the classic subjects representationally for centuries has been religious scenes.

This piece depicting the prophet Nathan is from Canterbury Cathedral. It is one of a series of panels of portraits of the ancestors of Christ. These windows were installed in the cathedral from the late 1170s through 1220. The windows in this cathedral are the oldest in situ (still in their original place) windows in England.

detail of a stained glass window from the Canterbury Cathedral

In 2017, South Pasadena artist Tim Carey designed and built, with the help of Narcissus Quality, a massive stained glass window. It measures 37 feet high by 93 feet wide, for a total of 3,441 square feet. The innovative construction methods combines fused and painted glass, leaded into panels that were then installed The fascinating story of the people and processes are documented in an entertaining movie, Holy Frit. The window is located in the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood Kansas.

installation of the huge stained glass window

Another massive glass installation resides in Justice, Illinois. The art is located in a temple in Resurrection Cemetery, which is most popularly known for being the haunting site of Resurrection Mary, a hitchhiking ghost that hangs out at the cemetery’s gate. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the largest stained glass window in the world at 22,381 square feet in 2,448 panels. Construction began on these in the early 1960s by Pixel Studio.

The design of the building (below is reminiscent of a classic Greek temple with an inner temple behind the colonnade made entirely of stained glass walls. These walls were constructed in the dalle de verre fashion. Dalle de verre is French for "glass slab." In this technique thick slabs of glass are broken with a hammer and then joined together in a matrix of concrete and epoxy resin.

The walls of the temple are made entirely of Dalle de verre glass, creating a beautiful and colorful building.

Non-Representational Designs

A second style is nonrepresentational, assembling a window that doesn’t represent anything identifiable.

These exquisite windows in the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran are patterns of forms and shapes without reference to anything we see in the world.

the interior of this mosque is beautifully decorated with Moorish patterns

This geometric pattern is another lovely example of a design that is not intended to represent something identifiable.

this simple window design has geometric pieces radiating from a center square

Victorian Designs

A third common style for stained glass panels was developed in the Victorian era. These panels often include beveled pieces and faceted glass globules. They can be colorful or have a simple color palette. Victorian windows can hint at natural elements in the design. This 1880s window, salvaged from a building in Chicago and still in the original sash, has elements that seem to be leaves.

an antique window in its original casing

This panel is an example of a quintessential Victorian style window design. Swirling bands of color wind through the panel. Accents of bevels, faceted pieces, and faceted glass globules are interspersed in the design. There is a defined, geometric border.

transitional Victorian style stained glass window


Inspiration is often found in the world around you. Artists look to nature for inspiration. Our community can be the inspiration for a window design. Our important symbols become subject matter for our art.

There are dozens of stained glass pattern books on the market. These are often themed topically, such as designs inspired by flowers, the ocean, the Victorian era, and others. Books can be themed to projects too. The projects are often small copper foiled items including night lights, Christmas ornaments, sun catchers.

The past few years we've seen a surge in popularity in adult coloring books. These books provide designs that can inspire us. Children's coloring books are inspirational too.

Quilts are similar to stained glass. Each uses the medium, either glass or fabric, in blocks. We can look at quilt magazines, web sites, and books for ideas for our glass patterns.

A favorite source of inspiration is design pattern books. A google search for "design pattern books" brings up books honing in on designs from the Art Nouveau period, William Morris designs, art forms in nature; Arabic, Chinese, Native American, and other ethnic pattern designs, and a plethora of books on other specific design themes. There are also plenty of books dedicated to teaching how to create pattern. These patterns can inspire the glass artist in developing designs for a glass panel.

Finding inspiring images of subject matter on a computer is simple. There are web sites with images, such as Getty images or Pixabay, where you can find hundreds of thousands of lovely photographs, vectors, and illustrations of any subject imaginable.

There are several places to look for stained glass projects on-line. Simple searches lead you to the work of other stained glass artists. Many of the web sites that retail stained glass materials have illustrations of artist works from competitions. Some have galleries where artists can upload images of their work.

We are surrounded by design in our everyday world. Carpets, wallpaper, wrapping paper, and fabrics are great resources. Creative works in other two and three dimensional media can inspire stained glass artists. And, of course, common objects make great subjects for our art.

a modern stained glass window depicting an antique Buggati car

This Bugatti window is located in a restaurant in Monterey, CA.


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