Stained glass pixels

I’ve seen this brief note from Wired two or three times in the last week or so now:

    “Blood-spurting martyrs, biblical parables, ascendant doves — most church windows feature the same preachy images that have awed parishioners for centuries. But a new stained-glass window in Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, to be completed in August, evokes technology and science, not religion and the divine. Contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter designed the 65-foot-tall work to replace the original, destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a starting point, he used his own 1974 painting 4096 Colors. To create that piece — a 64-by-64 grid of squares — Richter devised a mathematical formula to systematically mix permutations of the three primary colors and gray. Funny coincidence: 4,096 is also the number of “Web-smart” colors that display consistently on older computer screens, a limitation some Web designers still take into account. (Today’s monitors, of course, can handle pretty much any hue.) The Cologne window is made of 11,500 four-inch ” pixels” cut from original antique glass in a total of 72 colors. Why not 4,096? Turns out there are stained glass-smart colors, too. Some hues in Richter’s initial design were either historically inaccurate or too pale — they would have outshone the squares around them. So the artist modified his palette to include only colors with a suitably archaic cast. Because it’s fine for a church window to look like it’s been designed by a computer, as long as it’s a computer with a Gothic sensibility.”

It’s really difficult for me to imagine something like this. In recent years I’ve lamented the lack of stained glass — or any kind of significant, artistic, architectural aspect — in modern church buildings. A large church I attended before moving to Arkansas installed a fan-dangled stage lighting get-up, which I referred to as a poor replacement for stained glass. The blurry textures these lights beamed onto the walls did nothing, in my opinion, to enhance the space. Awe, reverence, worship was not heightened by a wall full of pixelated light.

I know nothing of Richter’s work. I am glad to see a church allowing a modern artist such freedom, but my own personal aversion to the ubiquitous digital presence in our cultures stirs up a mild disgust at this particular work.

I crave the tactile.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Stained glass pixels

  1. Beauty without Content

    I think that this window would be perfect for the current state of The Episcopal Church (of which I am still, with regrets, a member): all of the beauty, color, and taste … without any of that nasty Christian message that those Traditionalists used to always be on about … what did they call it ? Ah, yes, the Gospel.

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