One of the biggest issues people have with stained glass is that all too often it simply doesn't fit well into its surroundings. William Morris took a purist stance when he helped found the SPAB and declared that his company would not design glass for an ancient building (he bent his own rules at times, though) as he was all too aware of the visual dissonance caused by so much garish, sentimental Victorian glass in old churches. I'm not saying that all Victorian glass is like this - and I love some of the most lurid stuff of the Gothic Revival period - but some of it is wince-inducingly intrusive and unsuitable.
So when you do walk into a place where the glass is perfectly suited to the space, it is a real joy. This happened when I visited the old, plain, and beautifully light church of St Alkmund in Shrewsbury last week. The side windows are simply and plainly glazed in a way that shows off their lovely shape and tracery, and only the great east window is filled with painted - in this case, enamelled - glass.
It may not be to everybody's taste, but there is no denying the recently restored 1795 window by Francis Eginton looks absolutely at home here. It's like an enormous back-lit transparency, full of light and delicacy and pale Georgian colours of lilac and primrose and coral and grey. It has the depth and impact of a huge oil painting but one which doesn't swallow up light and look dark and shiny.
Instead it emanates beautifully filtered and modulated light, even on a dull, wet day.
This type of eighteenth century painted glass fell out of favour with the medievalising Victorians who removed most of what they inherited when they carried out their enormous programme of church restorations from the 1840s onwards. So to find an Eginton window so well cared for, with even the frame gilded once more as per his original specifications (it had been painted black for a long time), is a real treat.
Eginton painted this for a very specific location in a very specific church and it works. He may have nicked the basis of his design from Guido Reni, but he has, as they say, made it his and the church's own.
Properly site-specific art.