Aug 022016


Today is the birthday (1865) of John Radecki (also known as Johann and Jan Radecki) who was a master stained glass artist who was born in Poland but spent most of his professional life working in Australia. He is considered one of the finest stained glass artists of his era. Rather than dwelling exclusively on Radecki, I’m going to take a peek at stained glass manufacture in general, although this will just be a peek.

Colored glass has been produced since ancient times. Both the Egyptians and the Romans excelled at the manufacture of small colored glass objects. Phoenicia was also important in glass manufacture with its chief centers in Sidon, Tyre and Antioch. In early Christian churches of the 4th and 5th centuries, there are a few remaining windows which are filled with ornate patterns of thinly-sliced alabaster set into wooden frames, giving a stained glass like effect. Evidence of stained glass windows in churches and monasteries in Britain can be found as early as the 7th century. The earliest known reference dates from 675 when Benedict Biscop imported workmen from France to glaze the windows of the monastery of St Peter which he was building at Monkwearmouth. Hundreds of pieces of colored glass and lead, dating back to the late 7th century, have been discovered here and at Jarrow.


In the Middle East, the glass industry of Syria continued during the Islamic period with major centers of manufacture at Ar-Raqqah, Aleppo and Damascus and the most important products being highly transparent colourless glass and gilded glass, rather than colored glass. The production of colored glass in Southwest Asia existed by the 8th century, at which time the alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān, in Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna, gave 46 recipes for producing colored glass and described the technique of cutting glass into artificial gemstones.


Stained glass, as an art form, reached its height in the Middle Ages when it became a major pictorial form used to illustrate the narratives of the Bible. In the Romanesque and Early Gothic period, from about 950 to 1240, the untraceried windows demanded large expanses of glass which of necessity were supported by robust iron frames, such as may be seen at Chartres Cathedral and at the eastern end of Canterbury Cathedral. As Gothic architecture developed into a more ornate form, windows grew larger, affording greater illumination to the interiors, but were divided into sections by vertical shafts and tracery of stone. This elaboration of form reached its height of complexity in the Flamboyant style in Europe, and windows grew still larger with the development of the Perpendicular style in England.


During the Renaissance stained glass work flourished, beginning with the windows in Florence Cathedral. The stained glass includes three ocular windows for the dome and three for the facade which were designed from 1405-1445 by several of the most renowned artists of this period: Ghiberti, Donatello, Uccello and Andrea del Castagno. Each major ocular window contains a single picture drawn from the Life of Christ or the Life of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by a wide floral border, with two smaller facade windows by Ghiberti showing the martyred deacons, St Stephen and St Lawrence. One of the cupola windows has since been lost, and that by Donatello has lost nearly all of its painted details.


In Europe, stained glass continued to be produced with the style evolving from the Gothic to the Classical, which is well represented in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, despite the rise of Protestantism. In France, much glass of this period was produced at the Limoges factory, and in Italy at Murano, where stained glass and faceted lead crystal are often coupled together in the same window. Ultimately, the French Revolution brought about the neglect or destruction of many windows in France. During the Reformation, in England large numbers of Medieval and Renaissance windows were smashed and replaced with plain glass. The Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the injunctions of Thomas Cromwell against “abused images” (that is, veneration), resulted in the loss of thousands of windows. Few remain undamaged. With this wave of destruction the traditional methods of working with stained glass died and were not to be rediscovered in England until the early 19th century.

Some Medieval and Renaissance stained glass techniques (and glass making techniques in general) have, in fact, been completely lost despite continued efforts to re-create them. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw its own renaissance, of which John Radecki was a major contributor.

Radecki was born 2 August 1865 in Łódź in Poland, son of Pavel Radecki, a coal miner, and his wife Victoria, née Bednarkiewicz. Jan trained at a German art school at Poznań. With his parents and four siblings he migrated to Australia, reaching Sydney in January 1882. The family settled in Wollongong in New South Wales, where he and his father in the coalmines. His parents had two more children in Australia. Jan moved to Sydney in 1883 where he attended art classes. He boarded with the Saunders family from England and on 17 May 1888 married their daughter Emma. He became a naturalized Australian citizen under the name John in November 1904 (aged 39).


From 1885 Radecki had been employed by Frederick Ashwin, who taught him to work with glass. In the 1890s the two men had crafted stained glass windows entitled ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (St Paul’s Church, Cobbitty) and `Nativity’ (St Jude’s, Randwick). Other works included a window at Yanco Agricultural College, produced in 1902 by F. Ashwin & Co. reputedly to Radecki’s design, and the chancel window (1903) in St Clement’s, Mosman. His first, major independent work was the ‘Te Deum’ window in Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, in 1906. Ashwin and Radecki also collaborated on windows in St James’s, Forest Lodge, and St John’s, Campbelltown.

After Ashwin’s death in 1909, Radecki became chief designer for J. Ashwin & Co, in partnership with Frederick’s brother John; he was proprietor of the company from John Ashwin’s death in 1920 until 1954. The firm was the largest glassmaking establishment in Sydney, with a high reputation. Radecki’s work included windows in such churches as St John the Evangelist’s, Campbelltown, St Patrick’s, Kogarah, St Joseph’s, Rockdale, St Matthew’s, Manly, and Our Lady of Dolours’, North Goulburn, Scots Kirk, Hamilton, Newcastle, and the Presbyterian Church, Wollongong.

Here’s a small gallery.

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Certainly Radecki spent most of his life in Australia, but I guarantee that like most European immigrants he retained his Polish roots all of his life despite assimilating in to Australian culture. So, I am going to give a recipe for a classic Polish dish, golonka, or pork knuckle. Central Polish cuisine is a mix of Slavic and German traditions, and classic golonka is much the same as the German Schweinehaxe. I’ll give you a recipe although there’s really not much need. The main difficulty is finding the pork knuckle. You’ll need a good pork butcher. Also, you need a fresh one, not smoked or pickled. That’s the real challenge.

Pork knuckle is classic poor food which has since been elevated to gourmet status. Knuckle is actually quite delicious is cooked properly, but you have to take time. If you go whole hog (sorry !), it’s a three day process – 1. Marinating 2. Poaching 3. Roasting. Two works for me.




1 large fresh pork hock per person
light stock
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
2 juniper berries
1 large carrot
1 large onion, quartered
1 parsnip
1 rib celery
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp caraway seeds


10 oz Polish beer
4 tbsp honey


Put the hocks in a large, heavy pot, cover with water or light stock, add the vegetables and flavorings (including salt to taste), and gently simmer on low heat for at least 2 hours, or until the meat is falling from the bone. This might take 3 hours or longer depending on the meat.

Remove the hocks from the stock with a slotted spoon and reserve the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C.

Place the hocks in a deep baking pan.

Mix the beer and honey together in a small saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking broth. (The rest you should use for soup or stock). Heat the glaze to dissolve the honey, then pour it over the hocks.

Bake the hocks for about 40 minutes, or until the glaze is golden.

Serve with boiled potatoes. If you want you can make a gravy with the reserved cooking liquid, by adding a roux or cornstarch as thickener.