The wonder of the window is not in itself but in the view it offers. Gazing out of my window, my thoughts are adrift on the breeze, that gently caresses the nodding flowers and rustling leaves. I can sit by an open window for hours and hear only bird songs, and the rustle of leaves. There is always something beyond the window.
I find myself fascinated by windows. They come in varied sizes and styles and are ubiquitous aspects of every building that makes up our cities and everyday life. They allow us to engage visually with the world from the comforts of our homes while protecting us from the elements. The window is to look outside but it is also to look within. When the window is open, light comes in which can metaphorically illuminate the darkness in the inner recesses of our souls. They are harbors from which the self sails away into unknown expanses and are important intermediaries between the inner and outer world. As Rumi commented, there is a window from one heart to another heart.
This intimate relation between the window, seeing, and perception has become part of everyday language: the eyes are often considered as windows to the soul. The notion of seeing is already implied in the term window itself, which derives from the Middle English vindauga, eye of the wind. The history of glass windows is quite interesting. Glassmaking was very much an Eastern skill, and glass-making traditions were well established in many countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Palestine and Syria. Islamic glassmakers didn’t have any great presence in the West until the capture of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders on their 4th Crusade. This resulted in an influx of fleeing Byzantine glassmakers into Venice bringing with them skills and techniques that were totally new to Europe. By the end of the century, Venetian glassmakers had adapted many of these imported processes, alongside their own, to produce relatively large and transparent glass, referred to as Venetian windows.
Windows have lent themselves to artistic expression in multiple ways. Artists have used windows as a framing device to direct our gaze to a particular scene or subject, letting us understand the beauty they saw in a particular scene. Open Window, Collioure is one such example where Matisse beckons us towards the window which looks out onto the idyllic scene of a small fishing port. The bold color palette, reflects the liberation and serenity the artist felt while staying on the Mediterranean coast, a place which soothed his depression with its vitality and vivid colors. “The atmosphere of the landscape and my room are one and the same," said the artist. Vermeer used the play of light streaming through the window in many of his paintings to convey radiance and hope. In Girl Reading A Letter At An Open Window, ethereal light courses through the open windows, lending the picture a transcendent, spiritual glow. With the versatility of their appearances in works of art, it would not be an overstatement to say that the windows in art are windows to the world.
As I had mentioned earlier, a window is a portal, allowing one’s thoughts to roam around freely. One of the best narrative to illustrate this in English literature is Forster’s A Room With A View. As the name implies the story essentially revolves around a window and the view it offers. The book outlines the aspirations of the main protagonist, Lucy Honeychurch as she struggles between strict, old-fashioned Victorian values and newer, more liberal mores. A trip to Italy opens her sheltered eyes to ideas and people unlike those she has known growing up in the Victorian countryside. In Florence, she is given a room that looks into the courtyard rather than out over the river Arno. She is quite unhappy with it. Sensing her discontent, Mr. Emerson, a fellow guest, generously offers to exchange it with another one that offers a view of the river. The Florentine window provides her with beautiful vistas of the landscape outside. Lucy’s desire for a room with a view is a metaphor for her longing to connect with Italy and the new experiences the country offers. The window opening out into Florentine symbolizes Lucy’s openness to a new world, which is starkly different from the repressive Victorian mores that she is accustomed to.
The Covid virus has heightened our vulnerabilities. Our lived worlds have adapted and changed according to the waxing and waning of the virus. We have been told to isolate ourselves to prevent the infection from outside. As we shut the door and feel secure, the windows offer us an opportunity to engage with the world beyond our four walls, visually and emotionally.
As I lose myself observing the world outside, there is no distinction between me and the space around me. I absorb the sounds and sights that envelop me as I look outside the window. In the words of my favorite poet, Billy Collins…
The birds are in their trees,
and the poets are at their windows.
Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch…
Look forward to your reflections…comments…