Piper’s interest in stained glass began when he was ten years old, when he started to trace the stained glass windows near his home in Surrey and on every family holiday. When he began to design his own stained glass windows, he used abstraction and colour to enrich his works.
In his own words, from Stained Glass: Art or Anti-Art: 'Stained glass is a great leader astray of anyone who works at it – designer and craftsman alike. In terms of colour and form it is eccentric. Colour is abnormally bright, since the light comes through the material instead of being reflected from the surface; tone is usually dictated by bounding leads or area joints of some kind. The whole thing is imprisoned within glazing bars that form an inexorable grid and are structurally necessary. This is its proper splendid discipline.'
Having captured the bomb-damaged remains of Coventry Cathedral following the blitz of the city during the Second World War, Piper returned to create the baptistery window for the new St Michael’s Cathedral during the 1950s. Working collaboratively with Patrick Reyntiens, they created an abstract window that depends on colour and scale alone, with 195 lights of stained glass in primary colours.
In contrast to his first stained glass commission in 1954, the window in the chapel at Oundle School, Piper uses an entirely figurative design. At Eton College he made use of antithesis in creating the windows Light Hidden under a Bushel and Light That Shines Forth. While in Plymouth, at the Minster Church of St Andrews, he produced the memorial window on The Instruments of the Passion, where detail was at the centre of the work. For example, he went to great pains to recreate the exact look of a Minoan harp – the oldest musical instrument known to man.
In the area around Piper’s home at Fawley Bottom, the artist created a series of intimate stained glass windows, reflecting his own spiritualism. Many depict the natural world, a common theme in all of Piper’s work and one of his greatest sources of inspiration. He continued to design the windows up to some years before his death, the last being produced posthumously from a design gifted by his widow Myfanwy to St Mary’s Church, Iffley, in 1995.
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