Stained Glass Butterflies

This is definitely the year of the butterfly, everyone is talking about them. Not only are broccoli and cauliflower being invaded daily by cabbage-whites laying eggs and their caterpillars munching their way through winter vegetables, one of the most popular contemporary artists on the scene, Damien Hirst has filled a room in the Tate Modern Gallery, London with an exhibition entirely inspired by butterflies and stained glass. His work borrows from rose windows and Gothic arches, skilfully made using real butterfly wings. This piece has provoked controversy and anger from many, in particular environmentalists.

The butterflies Damien Hirst

The butterflies Damien Hirst

Why sacrifice all these animals? How long will a work with real butterfly wings last, they are already naturally fragile?

Butterflies are at the forefront of my mind too, due to the fact that I recently created two glass panels with them as the subject, and this inspired me to research the theme of the butterfly in stained glass.

I wanted to find skilled contemporary artists and artists from the past that have used the butterfly within their stained glass. The works included in this article are in chronological order and I offer a succinct description for my blog readers.

The first work entitled “The Butterflies Window” was created by Tiffany & Co in 1885. Originally this stained glass window adorned Laurelton Hall, the private residence of Louis Comfort Tiffany. This beautiful stained glass window depicts a flock of yellow-orange butterflies flying around a lit Japanese lamp. The work is now kept in the Morse Museum in Florida.

Butterflies Window Louis Comfort Tiffany

Butterflies Window Louis Comfort Tiffany

The second stained glass butterflies window was created by John La Farge in 1889 for the private home of William H. White in New York, entitled “Butterflies and Foliage”, this stunning leaded stained glass is made with beautiful intense coloured opalescent glass. It is now housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Butterflies and Foliage, John La Farge

Butterflies and Foliage, John La Farge


Detail, Butterflies and Foliage John La Farge

Detail, Butterflies and Foliage John La Farge

Jonh Piper (1903-1992) designed a series of stained glass windows with images of butterflies which are a sacred symbol of the resurrection. John Piper, a British artist who was involved in painting and engravings as well as stained glass projects in a long running collaboration with the glass artist Patrick Reyntiens. The stained glass windows for Coventry Cathedral are among the most famous of their works. They were created after the original building was razed to the ground during the WWII Blitz . Here we show a three-light window created by Patrick Reyntiens for the church of San Barnaba in Nettlebed (photo by Iann Wood) and a stained glass window in the church of Farnborough made by Joseph Nuttgens.

John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, Saint Barnaba Nettlebed, Uk

John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, Saint Barnaba Nettlebed, Uk


Church of Farnborough, John Piper e Joseph Nuttgens

Church of Farnborough, John Piper e Joseph Nuttgens

In 2007, a stained glass butterflies window was installed in the parish church of the small village called Staple near Canterbury, created by Canterbury Cathedral Studios. It was donated to the church by a lady in memory of her late husband. This window entitled “The Pilgrimage Window” contains colorful butterflies flying around figures and musical scores. The imagery remembers her husband’s role as the parish organist. Here is a detail of the stained glass window.

the Pilgrimage Window, detail

the Pilgrimage Window, detail

After finishing his studies in architectural glass at the University of Swansea, Aidan MacRae Thompson designed and installed several acclaimed works for various churches in the UK. In this stained glass, butterflies fly around the tree of life. This elegantly created window was made by MacRae in 2009 for a chapel of rest in Nuneaton in Warwickshire. Aidan is a former colleague and friend for whom I have admiration and respect.

The window of Aidan MacRae Thompson

The window of Aidan MacRae Thompson

This beautiful butterfly is by Judson Portzer, an glass artist who works in Huntsville Alabama, USA. This beautiful species of butterfly Vanessa Io is masterfully painted with tracing paint and enamels on streaky transparent glass.

Judson Portzer's butterfly

Judson Portzer’s butterfly

Finally, these are the two panels I made recently for wedding gifts. The first is a circular panel created to adorn a window, while the other is one of IKO Studio’s signatory wall-lamps. Both works were made with a background of beautiful mouth blown glass produced by Lamberts. In the first window I used a streaky gold pink glass and in the second, a blue seedy glass. The glass for the background is unpainted, apart from the antennas and the bodies of the butterflies. This is because the streaks and bubbles created during the blowing process, are perfect in themselves.
The wings of the butterflies were created with clear, colored and flash glass, painted with tracing, shading and glass enamels.

My butterflies Stained Glass panel

My butterflies Stained Glass panel


Rounded stained glass panel

Rounded stained glass panel


Detail, hand painted butterfly

Detail, hand painted butterfly


Hand painted butterfly on yellow glass

Hand painted butterfly on yellow glass

In truth, the number of stained glass butterflies as the theme is incredible. Experienced artists and novices alike, enjoy this insect, just as much as the cabbage-whites enjoy my winter broccoli. Pin Interest kept me amused for hours, looking at all manner of examples. Before you go off to look there, please share your thoughts on butterfly stained glass and if you’ve got a butterfly window that you are particularly proud of and that you’d like to share, upload it in the comment section below.