One of my favorite places to visit is the Morse Museum of Winter Park, Florida. The Morse Museum contains the most comprehensive collection of works by American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. Exhibits include leaded-glass lamps, unique windows, and architectural elements from Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. My favorite part of the museum is The Chapel which Tiffany created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
Inside The Chapel, intricate glass mosaic surfaces reflect light from a ten foot by eight foot electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross. Sitting in the chapel makes me feel as if I’m in another world. Similar to the great cathedrals of Europe, The Chapel inspires me to consider the beauty and holiness of God. I am reminded that darkness will never extinguish the light.
Stained glass as an art form reached its height in the Middle Ages. The stained glass windows of medieval churches taught the narrative of the Bible to an illiterate population. During the twelfth century in England the Tree of Jesse Window displayed the genealogy of Christ. Pictured at the base of the tree is Jesse, father of King David. On higher branches are the kings and prophets of Judah. At the top Christ and Mary are shown. This window shared Isaiah’s prophecy: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow from his roots.”
As America became more industrialized during the late 1800’s and cities grew, churches sought artists who could work in stained glass. During the nineteenth century, pot metal glass was commonly used. Craftspeople often painted this regular looking glass with enamels.
Tiffany’s windows took stained glass to a new level. His invention of opalescent glass used chemicals to create the variations of color found in nature. The result was a more realistic looking product. Tiffany’s windows fulfilled a long-desired American goal of countering the perceived artistic superiority of Europe. He mastered the art, and by 1900 America led the world in the production of stained glass decorations. Tiffany Studios produced a range of products including lamps, pottery and jewelry.
Tiffany was inspired by nature and intoxicated by color. Winter is an example of opalescent glass from the Four Seasons panel on display in the Morse Museum.