Reverse Glass Painting – Centuries Old Art Form

By Alan Beggerow

Reverse glass painting is the art of painting an image on the reverse side of a piece of glass or glass object so that the image can be viewed from the unpainted side. It has been done since early in the sixteenth century in Europe, and was known in China during the early 18th century.

This style of painting has been used for religious art, abstract art, clock faces, realistic landscapes, and scenes with people and portraits. It is a very exacting art form, especially when done as a realistic painting. The image is actually painted in reverse order on the glass. The finishing details of the painting must be put on the glass first, and must be done accurately as this is immediately covered with the next phase of the painting. So for a portrait reverse glass painting, the pupil of the eye would be painted first, then the eye, and so on in reverse order, finishing with the background. When the glass is turned over, the actual intended image is viewed from the unpainted side. Unlike stained glass, these paintings are meant to be mounted on a wall with light shown on them, instead of light going through them.

As best as art historians can determine, reverse glass painting evolved in Austria, the Black Forest region, and Romania in central Europe. And northern Spain, central and southern Italy in southern Europe. These paintings were generally created in small village family workshops, with fewer paintings produced by larger shops in large cities. Many of the images painted were of religious subjects in the beginning of the art form.

In the early 19th century the art form spread to other areas and appeared in the Middle East and West Africa. Areas where Islam flourished produced many reverse glass paintings. These paintings depicted scenes from Old Testament stories, stories and quotations from the Qu’ran.

The first documentation of reverse glass painting in China is in the writings of some Jesuit missionaries stationed there in the middle of the 18th century. Some say that it was the missionaries themselves that introduced the art in China, but art historians doubt that. The missionaries wrote about various art forms known in China when they arrived, and reverse glass painting was already being done in China upon their arrival. The exact time when the art form reached China is not documented in any known Chinese art history literature. There is evidence that Chinese glass painting was never considered a serious form of art by the Chinese themselves. Glass paintings used in China were usually located in restaurants or other public places and seldom in homes of the Chinese themselves. Much of it was also done for sale to tourists and foreigners.

With the innovations of photography and forms of printing in the middle of the 19th century, glass painting began to decline. There has been a recent resurgence in the art form, and reverse glass paintings are now being done in China, India and the world over.


  1. Hi, thanks for the information on reverse glass painting. Its true, there has been a decline in the interest towards glass painting. People should give more importance to arts by conducting exhibitions and events where the artists can show case their talents.

  2. My in-laws recently passed away and we realized that a picture hanging on their bedroom wall (he remembers it from his childhood) is a reverse glass painting. My father-in-law was a first generation immigrant from Ireland. Any idea where you go to find out the value of something like this.

  3. I inherited a lamp which my mother always told me was a Tiffany lamp. I started to do some research into this and came to find out that it is probably not Tiffany but reverse glass. Is there any value to this and where do I go to find out?

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