Stained Glass

[Original German Blog Post]

Window in the southern transept of Cologne cathedral by Gerhard Richter.
Image courtesy of Derix Glasstudios GmbH & Co.KG, Taunusstein.

That [Chamber] at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue -and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange -the fifth with white -the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet -a deep blood color.Poe, The Masque of the Red Death

The 19th century Romanticism with it’s enthusiasm for the middle ages brought also the Stained Glass Window back into sight.

House of Sir John Soane in London, built 1808-24.
The copyright on this image is owned by Peter Barr and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

There are spectacular examples, full of fashionable nationalism like the Bavarian Windows, given to the Cologne Cathedral by King Ludwig I. These Windows were obviously intended to orientate the citizens of Cologne towards the east, away from France with which Colgone shares more than just the same side of the Rhine. Irony of fate that the very Ludwig I became the only German monarch who had to resign in 1848’s revolution – just in the year when the Bavarian Windows had been opened.

Stained Glass in art history has rarely managed to get regarded anything other than just craftwork. Too dreadful are the vestiges – crown glass windows painted with horse and carriage at bawdy beer halls of the 1930s, or Gothic-nationalistic kitsch like the windows described earlier.

After the end of the middle ages, architecture concentrated on natural sunlight. Windows served no longer as independent creations of art but became mere installations to the building. The set-up mystical atmosphere of the old cathedrals opposites the grandiose theatre of the baroque edifices and finally the artificially coloured light would not fit the increasingly longing for immediate experience of a supreme meaning in nature, which was formed since the 17th century not only by Claude Lorrains’ landscapes:

I know that others find you in the light,
That sifted down through tinted window panes.
And yet I seem to feel you near tonight,
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains. (Lomax, Lomax, Spencer, Rogers)

The metaphorical denotation of light had changed. Thereby we get to an important aspect of designed glass windows: They had been not (just) part of the architecture but rather media, created for reading.

The earliest preserved stained glass windows can be found in the cathedral of Augsburg: three prophets, likely from a larger series, approx. 1060 A.D. with already completely distinct material and type of representation that we know from the successive four centuries. Small, dyed pieces of glass put together with bands of lead, partly covered with drawings in brown enamel paint or silver pigment.
The medieval windows communicate in different layers of meaning:

In the first instance they serve as Biblia Pauperum, i. e. as pictorial illustration of theological content for the church’s visitors who at that time usually where not able to read.
The second layer is an image of “Heavenly Jerusalem”. Of course the medieval man was at first overwhelmed – not getting any colours in sight outside the church apart from brown, green and the blue sky.

But the stained glass is not just staging, there is also a theological aspect deducted from Ezekiel’s vision and from the Revelation:

* Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire (Eze 1,26)
* Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (Rev 6,6)
* It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev 21,11)
* The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. (Rev 21,18)

The stained glass of the cathedrals was as precious and expensive as real gemstones. Deep read, so called Gold Ruby for example was obtained by blending nanoscopic gold particles. Thus during the Gothic times glass was not just seen as mere substitute for genuine gems. Like with the glass, the gemstones had been assigned their meaning because of their coloured translucency.

Sainte Chapelle

The diaphanousness opens the third and spiritual layer of meaning: the light itself is inscribed by colour and content of the pictorial windows, it is transcorporated like the Holy Water. This idea of a “light baptism” is truly the most original aspect of medieval glass art. The most spectacular example in my opinion gives the Sainte Chapelle at Paris.

As mentioned in the beginning, the renaissance of tinted Glass windows in the 19th century has been completely eclectic and shows hardly any discretion – not to speak about subtle, spiritual layers of meaning like in the middle ages. It took not until the 20th century to generate creations of glass that could rightly be seen as works of art again.

Obviously many of these works are used in church buildings: Le Corbusiers Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp has many little coloured windows, but these lack the medial character – the panes remain architectural decoration.

A different thing is the wonderful glass collage by Rupprecht Geiger – sacral like the Baptistery Window in the Evangelische Apostelkirche at Stockdorf – or profane like at the stair case at Munich’s Technische Universität (at cross section Theresienstreet, Luisenstreet). Geiger manages without any eclecticism to find an abstract form of expression in his glass windows.

The window of the southern transept in Cologne’s cathedral by Gerhard Richter also has all the distinct layers of meaning. The hue is taken right away from the production of the Gothic glasses. A Poor-man’s-bible, this is made clear by Richter, is no longer needed in our world of technically reproduced and seemingly objective images; and so he distinguishes his work from the usual wood-cut sacred kitsch that reminds to Ernst Barlach. Human words and images step completely back; nothing is abstracted, nothing transferred from reality into image. The coloured panes are arranged by mere random within each field; but the very fields are mirror symmetric one to the other. In this global symmetry the local contingency is dissolved. Thus the aspect of Gothic light mystics gets fully visible again.

One glass picture marks properly a turning point between epochs: the Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp, 1923. It is the pivotal point for Duchamp himself and represents like rarely another work of art the whole 20th century.
The original title of this most important work of glass art of the modern times is:
“The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even”
“La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même”
Art, the Machine Célibataire, the Bachelor Machine.

Schoenheit von Vogelsang

[Original German blog post}

“Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop. The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell. It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it.”
Many agree with the cold panic of information hell that New York Times’ author and correspondent George Packer associates with Twitter as he describes in his blog post; last but not least the fugatiousness of twitter is something wonderful as well as frightening: nothing seems of value, nothing of lastingness.

“Education needs time – and that is lacking in the Net”, says philosopher Markus Gabriel in an interview on – and on Twitter one might want to add, immediate transientness is even baked into the system – Twitter’s own search does only reach two days back into the past. All the beautiful thoughts sink so quickly into the depth of the timeline that we would like to stay, but a storm is blowing from Paradise that drives us irresistibly into the future.

If we regard Twitter as news channel, I can sympathize with Parker’s panic very well. Every bit of news that has reached me (by Re-Tweet) for the second time seems outdated, somehow no longer relevant. And how desolate it feels when even the absolute media-mainstream gets replicated by Re-Tweet like here today: “Man Resigns On Twitter per Haiku”.

However just this piece of news leads us to something in Twitter that is beautiful and valuable: lyrics and aphorism, beauty in linguistic cautiousness. The remarkable with Sun’s CEO’s resigning is not that he proclaimed it via Twitter. Twitter has become the most efficient channel for declarations of that kind – that’s all over town, been told by the host of social media experts for years. Remarkable is that Jonathan Schwartz chooses the meter of the Haiku. Brief real poems or exclamations resonating in their syllables are the beauty of Twitter for me. An update like “Mars can be seen all night” might have a factual background in astronomy. But regarded as solitary verse, the six monosyllabic words become a myth in which we get sight of the God of War, victorious over the realm of Neith.

If you do not just see Twitter as a short messaging service but take the metaphor “twitter” serious, the never ending deluge of text loses its terror – it is no longer information but becomes music indeed, a stream you may drift away with.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awaken’d flowers—
All that ever was
Joyous and clear and fresh—thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.
(Shelley, To a Skylark)

On Lent

[Original German Blog Post]
P. Breughel d. Ä.:Carnival und Fastenzeit

“Restore to me the joy.” (Psalm 51,12)

In the mass of Ash Wednesday this psalm formulates the beseeching for the beginning lent.

Despite an ongoing trend to fasting cures it is not common to speak about fasting and particularly repentance in connection with joy. It is easy to catch the unindulgent attitude and the tendency to suppressing drive – which are often alleged to Christendom – being concentrated here. Fasting remains caught in the closet of the spiritual or esoteric.

The current talking about media fasting accordingly provokes vivid discussion, both sides mutually implying to argument religiously and not objectively – and not by accident. No one else then Benedict XVI – always on the spot to upsetting his opponents, in the Angelus of Feb 17th 2008 recommended abstinence from media to support contemplation and catharsis:

“It may be useful for a while to refrain from the abundance and flooding of voices and images in our every-day’s life” (in German)

Fasting and diet are terms that have been appearing in context with Slow Media at various locations, when it came to the desire for a cure from a sense of excessive demand or the uncertainty of how far ones own life is depending from media and the Internet in particular. In her Blog, Jana Herwig titles “Twitter-fasting: I’ll do it (but not for Schirrmacher and Kluge)”:

“However I want sometimes to be without this [social media sense] again, not to always take the smart phone to check what’s up elsewhere while I am in the underground or during other moments of low action level; not to give way to the urge to formulate thoughts that are just articulating; not to follow and not to know, how others might react, but to keep it for myself alone.”

Also Luca Hammer, estimating himself as beeing author of up to 800 tweets a month refers to this post:

“Several hours a day, that I spend to reed and write tweets. High frequency. Always on my mind. What would happen, if I used this time for blogging?

And even Ibrahim Evsan – hardly suspicious of being an Internet sceptic – prescribes himself an Internet-diet from time to time: “When I get to heavy, I have to consume less and move more; when If my time for the real life gets ‘lost’ in the digital world I have to take care to optimise my social media consumption.

Repentance, μετάνοια, how the term is in the Greek text of the Gospels, means literally re-thinking and not only admission of guilt and thus avoiding punishment which resonates with the Latin term poenitentia. For becoming able to rethink, Benito Cocchi, Archbishop of Modena demands to voluntarily set aside SMS, Internet and television for one week and to cultivate understanding instead of just communicating: “Per tornare a comunicare, invece di komunikare”.

“This is because in a pluralistic society whatever promises novelty and sensation is presented indiscriminately. Certainly, there are also valuable programmes of information and entertainment. But people must be taught mature judgement if they are to choose wisely.”

Benedikt XVI. gave his German Bishops a talking during their Ad-Limina-Visitation (but without providing a pretext for refusing the Internet, for: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Petr 3,15)).

Fasting, says Thomas Aquinas may “… bridle the lusts of the flesh so the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things.”

By stepping back the view may be opened on the consequences that our communication devices impose on the world. And Benito Cocchi has explicitly in mind the material consequences, for a huge part of our electronic equipment is produced by means of the most disgusting exploitation – which is way too rarely brought to attention – and to which everyone of us should kindly take his part of responsibility. Apart from all CSR-rhetoric of Green Computing we have to face that we are still far from sustainability with our media consumption!

When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.(Matt 6,16-17)

Fasting should not be a burden, as well as media fasting; it may restore us the joy! It may give a reason to reflect on ones own use of communication media, to consider critically the contents and – with the necessary distance – to picture ones own position in the social net – what might fortunately be not so pivotal:

For dust you are and to dust you will return. (Gen 3,19)