I have discovered that in the world of stained glass, there are firmly held hierarchies of taste. Medieval glass is the pinnacle, the ne plus ultra for enthusiasts, and nothing has ever come close to matching it, they say. Further down are William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, a number of very good Victorian firms, various Arts & Crafts/Irish/early C20 designers, and a few post-war and contemporary stained glass makers. Near the bottom of the heap is Victorian 'wallpaper' glass which was sold from pattern books and still fills so many English churches. But the greatest disdain is reserved for eighteenth-century 'painted' glass because it's seen as just that, an aberration which is not not stained or cleverly leaded, but merely a painting on glass.
Of course, the fact that it is dismissed so often and out of hand has made me want to seek it out to find out what is causing so much offence. And what I have come across may not look like a derivative of medieval stained glass (which is effectively what so much Victorian glass is), but is something very different. It has much simpler leading - often just a supporting grid of lines - and sometimes has brilliant, vivid colours. Some of the actual painting is undeniably execrable - all part of fun - but some is also quite beautiful.
The late eighteenth-century windows in New College, Oxford, are generally regarded as the best examples of how stained glass lost its way at this time. The east window was painted by Thomas Jarvis after designs by Sir Joshua Reynolds, according to the fashion for copying artists and Old Masters, and they have been criticised pretty much ever since.
The upper set is dark and difficult to make out, but the figures of the Seven Virtues below are beautiful, like delicate back-lit screens with very Georgian colours and painterly effects. The windows let in a soft light, and are elegant, delightful and beguiling (and very much the fore-runners of Burne-Jones' pale women in places like Christ Church, Oxford).
These Reynolds/Jarvis windows were at the tail-end of stained glass' dark days, but in fact the whole post-Reformation period was a difficult time for the medium. This means that you don't find many C17 windows in England but Wadham College, founded 1610, has some fantastically awful/fascinating early C17 windows which, in their ugliness, are the antithesis of the late C18 ethereal beauty at New College. There are two fabulous, Jonah-swallowing beasts in the chapel windows which are worth searching for.
This bug-eyed whale was painted by Robert Rudland c1616 with a Jonah with perhaps the most shapely calves ever seen on a prophet. It's scary, colourful, wonderfully effective and, together with the beauties, a brilliant example of why you should never be guided by other people's taste. Especially when it comes to stained glass.