A day made of glass:
I’m reminded of an interesting passage in the book Glass: A World History:
As we have seen, one of the rapid developments in glass technology was the making of panes of window glass, plain and coloured, which was particularly noticeable in the northern half of Europe [after the twelfth century]. One very practical effect of this was on working conditions. In the cold and dark northern half of Europe people could now work for longer hours and with more precision because they were shielded from the elements. The light poured in, yet the cold was kept out. Prior to glass only thin slivers of horn or parchment were used and the window spaces were of necessity much smaller and the light admitted, dimmer.
It could also be argued that windows altered thought at a deeper level. The question here is the way in which glass, whether in a mirror, window, or through a lens, tends to concentrate and frame thought by bounding vision, and at the same time leads to abstraction and attention to the details of nature. It seems likely that the glass window altered the relations between humans and their world in ways which it is now difficult to recover.
This echoes an earlier observation by Lewis Mumford, in his book Technics and Civilization: “In losing color and ceasing to serve as a picture – the function it had occupied in medieval church decoration – and in letting in, instead, the forms and colors of the outside world, glass served also as a symbol of the double process of naturalization and abstraction which had begun to characterize the thought of Europe. More that that: it furthered this process. Glass helped put the world in a frame: it made it possible to see certain elements of reality more clearly; and it focussed attention on a sharply defined field – namely, that which was bounded by the frame.”
The windows that surround us, once clear, are increasingly filled with summoned images and symbols. We don’t look through them but into them. Naturalism fades; abstraction loses its backdrop of “the outside world.” The window turns back into a picture – a series of pictures, rapidly moving. The field blurs. The frame changes.