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The quest for medieval stained glass


In the age of box-office hits featuring advanced computer-generated imagery, a “special effects” medium from the past is making a comeback, and University of Manitoba professor Jim Bugslag is playing a key role in its return to the limelight.

“Medieval stained glass was a special-effects medium that really wowed people in the Middle Ages and continues to impress people today. For centuries, it was the most prestigious and expensive pictorial art,” says Dr. Bugslag.

“Its valuation plunged along with tapestry and embroidery in the 17th century, but interest in it has been increasing since the 19th century. It is undergoing a resurgence that is leading to a new appreciation of its place in history.”

The professor in the faculty of fine art has been leading the Canadian branch of an international organization called the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, whose mission is to locate and study displaced panels of pre-modern stained glass.

Dr. Bugslag’s work sounds a bit like a movie plot as he searches the world over for clues that might uncover the meaning of a medieval stained glass panel, reveal the identity of its creator or trace a path back to its original location.

“A typical panel that we are dealing with through the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi is undocumented and so we have to work from scratch,” Dr. Bugslag says. “I have been working on some of these pieces for almost 20 years and we’re finally making some major headway. It is really gratifying that these difficult research questions can finally be answered.”

Dr. Bugslag is currently playing detective for several stained glass works held in both public and private collections across Canada. This shows there is a growing interest among Canadians to collect and appreciate stained glass art, he says.

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