Stained!... Exquisitely so

A rare panel of Kannappa Nayanar. Art by S. Srinivasan. Photo: S. Nethesh Kumar.

A rare panel of Kannappa Nayanar. Art by S. Srinivasan. Photo: S. Nethesh Kumar.

Light has always fascinated human beings. Many gods across religions are in someway connected to the sun, the main source of light. Windows in homes therefore served the purpose of bringing light and with it divinity into the house. The tradition of using glass in windows came from abroad. Glassware was an important import in the Greco-Roman and colonial times, as Christian missionaries began building more churches - glass windows, such as those in churches, became popular. The simpler version was to cut coloured glass (which in the 18th and 19th century was much thinner) into pieces and fit them into a wooden frame, which had a decorative motif – usually segments of an arch or radiating lozenge-shaped decorations such as a peacock’s tail fan.

A rarer technique was painting bits of glass and then sticking them together with lead to create a complete painting that let the light in when installed as a window. Called stained glass, this is an ancient European art that became popular in Tamil Nadu especially in the 1890-1920’s. It is said that there was a department established to teach this art form in The College of Arts, Poonamalle. The old buildings in the college continue to have fine examples gracing their door and window frames.

Sadly there is no written documentation of this art, but several panels are found in the homes of many antique collectors. The themes are floral, representation of gods and Hindu mythology and those borrowed from Ravi Varma or C. K. Ramanujan’s lithographs. Dominant colours are white/grey, red, yellow, green and blue and very rarely, pink.

Expensive and fragile

Interestingly, most examples of stained glass are found in Chennai – George Town, which even in the Eighties, had several houses with these panels on the windows. Rarely does one find panels outside Chennai. Such panels were expensive in terms of material and labour, and fragile as well. As old houses were demolished, the panels, often damaged, were sold. The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday. Today they are hard to come by.

Those who cannot find an old one or are lucky to have an old one can now rejoice, as help is at hand in the form of S. Srinivasan. He has not only learnt how to restore them but can also create new ones with modern printing technology on glass.

In the past, glass was either plain or coloured (on one side) and the artist would cut them by hand, paint them and then using lead and a paste, stick them together like a jigsaw puzzle to create the panel. The painted side was outside and that ensured that the light streaming in recreated the effect inside. “Its magical, and once you see it, you will want one!”, says Srinivasan.

Today one can print the colours on the glass and then either leave it or cut and fix with lead for the old look. Whether old or new, it is better to protect the panel with a sheet of unbreakable toughened glass on both sides. Stained glass requires patience and more important, the ability to create a painting that will look good on glass. “People incorrectly refer to sticking pieces of coloured glass to form a shape, as stained glass. Proper stained glass is just like a painting done on glass,” says Srinivasan.

Another craft he hopes to train in, is the art of etching on coloured glass - both the Senate House and Connemara Library have excellent examples of this.

Srinivasan has been able to create panels only after restoring many of them since there is no one to teach the traditional technique in India and he hopes to see this art form back in vogue.

One can contact him on 9790973416, or email:

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 11:25:30 pm |