The History of Reverse Painting on Glass

Written by erin maurer
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The History of Reverse Painting on Glass
Reverse glass painting involves painting mirror images on the back of glass so that images appear correctly from the front. (hand painted bottle image by Kevin Chesson from Fotolia.com)

Reverse painting on glass is a unique art form created by painting images, figures, landscapes and symbols on the back of a piece of glass. Images are then viewed through the front of glass, making it necessary to paint everything as a mirror image of itself. Throughout history, glass painting has been used on everything from pottery pieces to church altars.

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Reverse Painting Technique

Glass, like mirrors, bends light and causes reflection for those looking into it. When glass began to develop as a media for art, painters quickly discovered painting on the back of a glass, as you would a canvas, resulted in the images appearing backward to the viewer. As a result, artists developed the reverse painting technique, according to the "Painting on Glass" website.

Origins

According to the "Painting on Glass" website, the origins of this craft are not very well known. Ancient Rome and China both lay claim to the idea that reverse painting on glass was born in their backyards. Roman dishes dating back to the third century that feature gold painting between layers of glass remain the oldest surviving example of glass painting.

Rise in Popularity

The Italian Renaissance during the 14th and 15th centuries saw an evolution in reverse painting on glass. Italians adapted a way to use water-based paints to create figures and scenes on the back of glass. As the craft was practised during this time period, it began to spread to other countries throughout Europe.

European Dissemination

Reverse painting on glass rose to popularity throughout Europe as the art of glassmaking spread throughout the continent, according to the "Painting on Glass" website. Glass-making spread in the 15th through 18th centuries, as glass makers travelled to discover new supply sources. The majority of European glass paintings were made between the mid 1700s and 1900s. Artists began painting religious icons and scenes on glass to be used in ceremonies and churches. As the craft grew in popularity, both professional and folk artists began practicing the trade, painting both religious and secular art. By the end of the 19th century, paintings were being created throughout Europe, Turkey, Japan, Iran, India and America.

Introduction to America

Glass painting most likely came to the United States sometime during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Foreign-born artists began practicing the craft in American cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Salem and Boston. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by the end of the 18th century American companies began to commercially produce glass in the new country, helping to bring reverse painting to popularity. Most American examples of reverse glass painting were produced between 1800 and 1880.

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