Gouda’s Sint-Janskerk’s famous sixteenth-century cycle of monumental stained-glass windows was produced by several teams of artists over the course of about fifty years. Less well known than the windows are their full-scale cartoons. They have been carefully preserved in good condition by the church itself, which has used them as guides for restoration work on the glass.
Het Geheim van Gouda exhibited these impressive drawings at the city’s Museum het Catherina Gasthuis, next to the church, in 2002. The exhibition included both restored drawings and others not yet restored, as well as some colored sheets made after the finished windows and several vidimi (small-scale contract drawings). The exhibition coincided with the 2002 publication of volume II from the set devoted to the Gouda glass in the Corpus Virtrearum Medi Aevi series (volume I appeared in 1997, volume III in 2000; the authors include two of the writers of the present catalogue, Zsuzsanna van Ruyven-Zeman and Xander van Eck).
The Gouda glazing program presents a unique opportunity to consider large-scale cartoons in relation to their finished windows. While the Gouda cartoons have been discussed in the Corpus Vitrearum series in connection with the windows – and one was exhibited in the 1986 Kunst voor de beeldenstorm exhibition in Amsterdam – this exhibition is the first recent effort to bring them out of the shadows of the glass. These beautiful large drawings, described by the catalogue as Gouda’s secret treasure because they have been virtually inaccessible until now, emerge as fascinating working tools for sixteenth-century stained-glass production as well as remarkable works of art in their own right.
Four essays by three authors analyze the history, subjects, production, and preservation of the cartoons. Zsuzsanna van Ruyven-Zeman, who has written extensively on the Gouda glass, provided two of the essays. In the first, she examines the history of the two glazing programs, the patrons, the meaning of the imagery, and the function and use of the cartoons. Her second essay surveys the various artists involved with the commission, excluding the two main figures of Dirck and Wouter Crabeth. Xander van Eck treats these latter two, the renowned ‘broeders en rivalen.’ Finally, Henny van Dolder-de Wit discusses the technique. Using the working drawings, he describes how the cartoons were copied and preserved. In addition to these essays, detailed catalogue entries by van Ruyven-Zeman and van Eck analyze the exhibited cartoons.
The Gouda windows were produced in two clearly defined campaigns. The first began almost immediately after a 1552 fire devastated many of the church’s earlier windows, and continued until the Protestant reform of 1571. After an interruption of more than twenty years, the window cycle was completed in a second campaign, lasting from the early 1590s to 1604. Predictably, the window’s patrons and subjects differ in the two campaigns. In the earlier set, the donors were mainly high-ranking clergy and secular individuals, including Philip II of Spain. Subjects include Old and New Testament analogies (although the subjects vary from those of the standard medieval typological formulae), scenes from the life of Christ, and representations of John the Baptist as Christ’s precursor. The sponsors of the second campaign were administrative authorities, such as the States of Holland and individual Dutch cities, and the windows mainly depict historical or allegorical themes, including biblical subjects as moral exempla.
The cartoons produced during this long glazing project document differences in the various glaziers working methods. Dirck and Wouter Crabeth, who produced a large part of the first series of windows, involved themselves in each stage of production – from vidimus through cartoon to finished window. Other artists of the first campaign divided some of the work, however; for instance Lambert van Noort furnished cartoons, while Digman Meynaert executed windows. In the second campaign artists generally maintained this systematic division of labor. The drawings’ character changes with the methods of work: the Crabeths and other artists who executed windows from their own designs produced freer and looser drawings, while cartoons intended for use by someone other than the draughtsman required a more clear and detailed style. The cartoons also display how working drawings can differ significantly in style. We find Dirck Crabeth’s grand approach related to Raphael, Jan van Scorel, and Jan Swart; the younger Wouters rapid, expressive sheets recall Frans Floris; Lambert van Noort produced powerful architectural settings, and Joachim Wtewael’s draughtsmanship is a tour-de-force.
While the Gouda drawings can be impressive and subtle as works of art, they never lose their character of working tools. For instance, they employ time-saving devices typical of cartoons: when background architecture or ornament is to be repeated in reverse, the drawings provide them only once; cartouches and quarterings are left empty to be filled by the glass-painters.
By focusing attention on the spectacular cartoons in Gouda, the exhibit succeeds in presenting stained-glass design as a significant category of Netherlandish art. The handsomely produced volume illustrates all the cartoons and provides color illustrations of the windows. By introducing these cartoons to a wider audience, the catalogue’s authors have both expanded our knowledge of the artists who made them, and deepened our appreciation of the famous windows for which they were drawn.
SUNY New Paltz