C.J. Berserik and J.M.A. Caen, Silver-Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels before the French Revolution (Corpus Vitrearum, Belgium, Checklists. Flanders, 4: Addenda). Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2018. lx, 384 pp, 100 b&w and 550 color illus. IBSN 978-2-503-58023-4.
C.J. Berserik and J.M.A. Caen, Medium-Sized Panels and Fragments of Stained-Glass Windows before the French Revolution (Corpus Vitrearum, Belgium, Checklists. Flanders, 5). Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2021. xvi, 704 pp, 500 color illus. IBSN 978-2-503-59382-1.
Cees Berserik and Joost Caen, co-authors of the two volumes reviewed here, have spent decades studying the art form of the small-scale stained and painted glass panel. As members of the Dutch and Belgian committees of the Corpus Vitrearum research organization devoted to stained glass, they have created the largest database of painted glass roundels in existence and have published important studies including Caen’s book The Production of Stained Glass in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant from the XVth to the XVIIIth Centuries: Materials and Techniques (Brepols 2009; reviewed by this writer in April 2012 for HNAR). These new two publications now add the fourth and fifth installments to their monumental checklist series produced under the auspices of the Corpus Vitrearum Belgium (volumes 1-3 were reviewed by this writer for HNAR in April 2012 and April 2017).
As do Berserik and Caen’s previous volumes in this series, these two new meticulously researched checklists present a vast amount of fascinating information, documenting hundreds of painted glass panels long removed from their original sites and now dispersed throughout the Flemish region of Belgium in churches, private collections, and museum galleries and storage rooms. Many of the glass panels in all five checklists are largely unknown and previously unpublished, providing a wealth of new material for further study. These two recent volumes illustrate each glass panel in color, and include, as completely as possible, notes about the panel’s attribution, subject, provenance, condition, and bibliography. The authors also identify and illustrate related compositions in glass and in other media such as drawings, prints, manuscript illumination, and panel painting.
In fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Northern Europe, small-scale painted glass windows emerged as a luxury art form that was particularly associated with the Low Countries. These glass panels were designed by leading painters like Jan Gossart and by artists working in the circles of prominent figures, such as Roger van der Weyden, Dirk Bouts, Hugo van der Goes, and Pieter Coecke van Aelst. Glass specialists such as Dirk Vellert and Dirck Pietersz. Crabeth designed small-scale panels along with the more traditional and costly commissions for monumental stained glass. Painted glass roundels have received increasing attention in recent years, for instance in museum exhibitions such as The Luminous Image (Timothy B. Husband et al., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), Painting on Light (Barbara Butts and Lee Hendrix, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum, 2000-01), and Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance (Maryan Ainsworth and Stijn Alsteens, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010-11), as well as in monographic studies such as Yvette Bruijnen’s Jan Rombouts: The Discovery of an Early Sixteenth-Century Master in Louvain (Brepols 2011). However, small-scale painted glass has not yet been fully integrated into the larger context of Northern art. We know from documents that major patrons of Netherlandish painting were also patrons of historiated small-scale stained glass. For instance, Jerome de Busleyden adorned the two dining rooms of his palatial Mechelen residence with cycles of now-lost windows representing Petrarch’s Trionfi and episodes from ancient history and mythology, as part of a program of wall paintings and furnishings depicting biblical and ancient themes. Michel Hérold has also recently described how glass windows depicting saints and armorials, probably roundels, were contracted for Nicolas Rolin’s Château d’Authumes in France (in Investigations in Medieval Stained Glass, ed. E.C. Pastan and B. Kurmann-Schwarz, Brill, 2019). While small-scale glass panels rarely remain in their original locations in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, or Germany, the Corpus Vitrearum checklist series is now building a foundation for reconstructing their intended contexts and their contemporary significance.
In an excellent essay in Volume 4, Berserik and Caen summarize issues they have examined in previous publications on small-scale glass. They discuss the display of painted glass panels in a wide range of spaces including homes, cloisters, guild halls, hospitals, and government buildings, exploring the various contexts in which glass panels were made. For instance, small-scale glass could be acquired to mark occasions such as a marriage, an ordination, or the attainment of a mastership in a guild; they could be used to demonstrate the patron’s identity and piety; they could be presented as personal or political gifts. The authors discuss artists who designed roundels, including the prominent Dirk Vellert of Antwerp and the anonymous Pseudo-Ortkens Group, and outline the stylistic development of roundels from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. Their essay explores how glass roundels depict an extraordinarily wide range of subjects, including saints, religious scenes, the professions, the months, judgment scenes drawn from biblical and ancient sources, and moralizing stories such as that of Rich Children/Poor Parents. Some subjects were favored in places; for instance, orphanages and hospitals frequently contained glass windows depicting examples of moral behavior, such as the Acts of Mercy, the Prodigal Son, and the Old Testament Joseph. In the seventeenth century, roundels may depict women engaged in domestic activities, comparable in subject to paintings of the period; other seventeenth-century panels presented decorative birds, flowers, and plants. The authors also discuss workshop practices, relationships between drawn designs and painted glass, the nature of heraldic windows, borders and inscriptions, glass sizes and formats, chemical analyses of samples of glass, the qualities and uses of materials including vitreous paints, silver-stain, sanguine, and enamels, and condition problems in surviving glass.
There are many exciting panels to be found here, such as the two lovely windows of Saints George and Michael slaying dragons in the Gruuthusemuseum, Bruges (vol. 5, pp. 396-398), or the panel of Christ in the House of Simon in the M-Museum, Leuven (vol. 5, pp. 502-506), placed tentatively by the authors in the workshop of Jan Rombouts the Younger, that belongs to a series now divided between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and several other collections. There are intriguing reworkings of images in other media, such as the roundel that transforms Dirk Vellert’s engraving of the Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew into Saint Peter Walking on the Water (vol. 5, p. 606). Volume 5 presents fragments and composite panels, works that can help piece together previously unknown compositions. These volumes, along with the three previous checklists, provide an invaluable resource for reconstructing cycles of glass, for adding new designs to the oeuvres of otherwise well-studied artists, for defining lesser-known artists, for analyzing connections between various media, and for expanding our knowledge of the range of visual imagery of the period.
These two volumes, following the Corpus Vitrearum format, catalogue the panels according to their present-day location, and now complete the authors’ checklist series of works preserved in the region of Flanders (although another volume may be desired, since the authors have found about eighty more panels since the publication of these books). Berserik and Caen are now planning future installments on the large amounts of glass currently housed in Dutch collections. Their checklist series makes an important contribution to the field by documenting an understudied, but highly valued, artistic medium that flourished in the Low Countries. Their Corpus volumes belong in every library that supports research on Northern European, specifically Netherlandish art.
State University of New York, New Paltz