For centuries, windows have appeared in the arts, and they can represent different meanings and symbols, depending on the context and the artist’s intentions.
In the Middle Ages, stained-glass windows were a popular way to depict biblical scenes and narratives in churches and other religious buildings. These windows often featured rich colors representing different symbolic meanings. Nowadays, it’s quite common to visit religious places just to admire the incredible craftsmanship work dating back from the 12th century for some of the oldest. You can find a list of the most incredible stained-glass windows in the world, from Brazil to Australia, with beautiful stops in Europe or in the Middle East.
Stained-glass windows in the Sainte Chapelle, Paris, 13th century.
In the Renaissance period, windows were often used as a symbol of perspective and the illusion of depth in paintings. Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo utilized windows in their works to create the impression of spatial depth, inviting the viewer into the world of the painting. As for the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, he is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work, through a window..
The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660, oil on canvas.
For the French impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte, his piece called “Young man at his window” showcases a man looking out the window over the city of Paris, like if he was dreaming about his future. In that painting, the window is the same as the Maison Janneau Versailles range window named “Mouton and Gueule de Loup”.
Oil on canvas, 1876.
In modern and contemporary art, windows have been used in a variety of ways to explore themes such as transparency, privacy, and confinement. For example, the artist Edward Hopper often depicted solitary figures looking out of windows, highlighting the tension between inner and outer worlds.
Morning Sun, oil on canvas, 1952.
Nighthawks, oil on canvas, 1946.
LOOKING & BEING SEEN: THE POWER OF INTERPRETATION
In recent years, windows in art have continued to be a popular subject for contemporary artists. For example, the artist James Turrell creates large-scale installations using windows to play with the viewer’s perception of space and light. https://jamesturrell.com/about/introduction/
Street artists often use windows as a canvas for their work, creating large-scale murals that incorporate the surrounding environment. For example, the artist Banksy has created several pieces that incorporate windows and doors as part of the composition.
Here is also a beautiful example from an artists’ group in Lyon, France, “Le Mur des Canuts” that depict the ordinary city life in trompe-l’oeil. It tricks your eyes as it seems so real but it’s just the artistic effect.
Wall of the Silk Weavers, c. 1987.
Photographers often use windows as a framing device in their work, highlighting the relationship between interior and exterior spaces. For example, the photographer Gregory Crewdson often creates cinematic images that feature figures looking out of windows or doorways, creating a sense of voyeurism and intrigue.
The Disturbance, photography.
In the movie “Rear View”, we can say that the window is at the heart of the plot. Alfred Hitchcock constructed the whole story with and through the window. It symbolizes more than the object, it’s the witness of everyone’s life.
Overall, windows continue to be a rich and diverse subject in contemporary art, with artists using them in many ways to explore themes such as perception, memory, and identity. Windows are more than a simple object: you look out the window, you’re seen through a window, you envision your future, your dreams… It’s the way to see through your eyes, your mind and your spirit.
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