The craft of glass painting and the legacy of Miksa Róth

Glass painting started in the 11th and 12th centuries, but its real renaissance was in the 13th, which is related to the overruling of the Gothic style. In our present exhibition, besides reviewing the history and method of glass painting, we have selected some documents from Miksa Róth’s legacy that is preserved by the employees of the MTA (Hungarian Academy of Sciences) Centre for Social Sciences, and which has been made accessible in digitised form in our database.

More perfect and higher-grade

2013_1608_c.jpgOwing to the large windows due to Gothic architectural innovations, churches were not so dark as they were earlier; on the contrary! Too much light started to cause a problem. The mosaic-like window, patched with several small glass plates, can break this excessive light.

“The windows must be coloured in a way that the light filtrating through them would not be prominent, and the different colours would mix and give an organic tone to the church. In this aspect, the most important requirement is that (…) the colourful windows should not shed flaring, inconvenient light spots on the ground or on the priest’s back during the mess, but it should just colour the air and give an atmosphere without being visible. A mosaic-like window set together from many glass plates is much more practical than one with large painted panes of glass, because the former breaks and mixes the light many times.”


Besides practical reasons, the artistic appeal of glass painting also contributed to its popularity. Authors of medieval works, for example religious writer Theophilus, listed glass colouring among painting techniques, and considered (he and probably his contemporaries as well) these pieces of art glass paintings that are higher-grade than traditional paintings:

“The light transmittance, the shine makes the glass painting more perfect and higher-grade than the panel pictures, miniatures or wall pictures.” – Theophilus

How to start? – First of all, “make two or three small brushes from fur!”

MTA_BTK_MI_Adattar_MDK_C_I_58_044_b_atm.jpgIn the ancient times, glass paintings were made by molding the lines of small mosaics with tin or lead on a wooden panel on the basis of a plan. Sometimes, it was necessary to make paintbrushes before painting the glass plates:

“Take a lead pot, put some water in it mixed with chalk, and make two or three small paintbrushes from fur, namely from weasel, squirrel or cat tail or donkey mane.”

After that, they fitted a glass plate behind an already drawn leaden frame, drew it around with chalk before cutting it off. And then, they cut it to the right size with a heated cutting iron, according to the marking. The next step was the painting itself:

“Take thin-hammered copperplate, warm it up in a small iron cup while it transforms into powder, and then take pieces of green glass and Greek sapphire glass, pulverize them between two porphyry muller stones

MTA_BTK_MI_Adattar_MDK_C_I_58_053_23.jpgand mix the three in a way that one third of it is copper powder, one third is green and one third is sapphire glass. Very carefully, pulverize them with the same muller stones with wine or urine, and then paint them in an iron or leaden pot.”

Painting was followed by further decorations:

“Sometimes, you can put small animals, birds or small reptiles and naked figures in the circles. In this method, make surfaces from the lightest white and decorate these images with sapphire, green, crimson and red.”

For the sake of durable colours, they heated the painted glass in a furnace, and then they fixed the glass elements with melted tin and lead as the last step of the process.

The man who had genial artistic and business senses at the same time   

MTA_BTK_MI_Adattar_MDKCI58_410_1.jpgMiksa Róth was born in Budapest in 1865. His father and grand-father were master glass painters. He studied drawing in the Industrial Drawing School of Pest; and learnt the glass painting profession in his father’s workshop, but he developed his knowledge later in Western Europe and in England. He made his first windows at the age of eighteen for the Bobula Palace of Andrássy Road and the Industrial Hall of the National Expo. When he returned from abroad, he opened his own glass-painting institute, where he painted renaissance style glasses at the beginning.MTA_BTK_MI_Adattar_MDKCI58_406_32.jpg

His contemporary, the famous Hungarian architect Imre Steindl had a key role in Miksa Róth’s artistic career, because he got his first orders from him, and owing to him, he took a liking for the glass paintings of the Early Middle Ages when he restored the Late Gothic style church of Máriafalva in Vas County. He got this order from Steindl as well. Although his works for the National Expo of 1896 had a great role in his popularity, the planning and making of the glass-paintings of the Parliament brought him a huge success and national fame.

“The windows are made by Miksa Róth’s metropolitan glass-painting institute based on the owner’s artistic designs (for the church of Szekszárd). Those who have already seen the two opalescent windows made by the Róth Institute in our museum can have an idea that the windows of the downtown church will be highly esteemed works of art. “ – 1905

Colour-changing gold, cobalt and selenium


In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, it was Miksa Róth who introduced the technique of Tiffany glass making that was invented by American interior decorator Louis Comfort Tiffany at the end of the 1800s. The point of the method is that different shades of the glass are not painted, but during the production, different materials – for example gold, selenium or cobalt – are added to the melted glass. The speciality of this method is that not only the colour of glass changes, but also different patterns are created in it. Miksa Róth also learnt the profession of glass mosaic making in Venice in 1897. He developed it creatively: his mosaic making innovations include for example the use of Zsolnay’s eosin-glazed elements as mosaics as well.

Károly Erdélyi

Translated by Zita Aknai



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