Joost M.A. Caen, The Production of Stained Glass in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant from the XVth to the XVIIth Centuries: Materials and Techniques (Corpus Vitrearum Belgium, Studies). London: Harvey Miller (an imprint of Brepols Publishers, Turnhout), 2009. 456 pp, illus. ISBN 978-1-905375-64-6.
C.J. Berserik and J.M.A. Caen, Silver-Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels before the French Revolution, Flanders, Vol. I: The Province of Antwerp; Vol. II: The Provinces of East and West Flanders (Corpus Vitrearum Belgium, Checklist Series, published under the auspices of the Comité Internationale d’Histoire de L’Art and the Union Académique Internationale). Turnhout: Brepols, 2007 and 2011. Vol. 1: xxv, 436 pp, 470 color and 510 b&w illus. ISBN 978-1-905375-25-7. Vol. 2: xiv, 630 pp, 900 color, 300 b&w illus. ISBN 978-1-905375-31-8.
The years following World War II saw the creation of the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, an international research committee dedicated to the documentation and publication of medieval stained glass, a particularly fragile art form which had suffered great losses during the war. The committee later expanded its cataloging project by adding post-medieval glass to its mission. In broadening its focus, the Corpus Vitrearum recognized the importance of Northern Renaissance glass, which flourished as an inventive art form and engaged nearly every leading Netherlandish artist of the sixteenth century. It is well known that major painters such as Jan Gossart, Bernard van Orley, and Pieter Coecke van Aest were prolific designers of stained and painted glass panels; they and their contemporaries left us with a substantial corpus of monumental windows, small-scale roundels, and drawings for glass. Artists of the stature of Hieronymus Bosch and André Beauneveu are known to have designed glazings for churches and chapels, while other prominent figures, such as Dirk Vellert and Arnold van Nijmegen, made a successful specialty of glass design.
Yet historians of Netherlandish art have been slow to acknowledge this medium, which has been long marginalized and even invisible to non-specialists in glass. Notably, much of the work on these windows has been largely done by members of the Corpus Vitrearum, the majority of them trained as medievalists rather than as Renaissance specialists. However, while the Corpus’s earlier catalogues on Flemish glass by Jean Helbig and others had little influence on the field of Netherlandish art history, more recent scholarship has begun to incorporate Netherlandish glass into the mainstream. Timothy B. Husband’s (Corpus Vitrearum U.S.A) exhibition of small-scale painted roundels introduced a larger audience to the often exquisite quality and the innovative subject matter of the silver-stained pane ( The Luminous Image, Painted Glass Roundels in the Lowlands, 1480-1560, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995). Zsuzanna Van Ruyven Zeeman (Corpus Vitrearum Netherlands) recently published two monumental volumes documenting North Netherlandish glazing (Stained Glass in the Netherlands before 1795, Amsterdam, 2011). Scholars are now investigating stained glass designs more seriously alongside paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints in museum exhibitions (see for instance Maryan Ainsworth’s and Stijn Alsteens’s exemplary essays in Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010), and monographs (Yvette Vanden Bemden, Chantal Fontaine-Hodiamont, and Arnout Balis, Cartons de vitraux du XVIIe siècle: La Cathédrale Saint-Michel, Bruxelles: Corpus Vitrearum Belgique, 1994; Yvette Bruijnen, Jan Rombauts, Brepols, 2011).
The three volumes under review here by C.J. Berserik and Joost M.A. Caen, members of the Corpus Vitrearum Netherlands and Belgium committees respectively, present important, extensively researched contributions to the project. Joost Caen’s book publishes his PhD dissertation in conservation-restoration, written at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Cornelis Berserik has been collecting data on Netherlandish roundels for over three decades, and his two checklist volumes, co-authored with Caen, make available to a wider audience some of the invaluable material, much of it previously unpublished, housed in his vast photographic archives in Holland.
Caen, whose main purpose is to analyze the original materials and techniques of glass production from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, approaches the subject as both a conservator and an art historian. In a series of well-argued chapters, drawing from contemporary treatises, archival documents, and his own laboratory examination of representative panels, he clarifies in detail a wide range of topics, some of them entirely unfamiliar to most historians of Northern art. He explores the workings of the guild organizations in relation to the glass profession, the physical properties of the glass itself and the recipes for the paints used to execute the panes, the nature of the stained-glass workshop, and the methods employed to transfer drawn designs to the glass support. He analyzes technical aspects of glass production, such as the application of silver-stain, the practice of painting in layers, of abrading and etching, and the use of cold paints. He discusses kilns, firing, leading, and the tools used in glass production. Caen draws his observations from fascinating case studies of sample glazings, in which he examines works made in various Netherlandish centers, Netherlandish windows installed elsewhere such as Spain, Portugal, and England, and almost thirty small-scale painted roundels.
Caen’s study provides numerous new insights that will be of interest to glass conservators, to glass historians, and to historians of Netherlandish painting alike. For instance, he has identified innovative coloristic effects in glazing, such as the creation of a striking purple hue made by blue glass flashed on a red glass substrate (observed in in an early sixteenth-century glazing for the monastery of Batalha in Portugal and a window for the Cathedral of León, Spain, 1565). He demonstrates that contemporary panel painting can be mined for clues about the history of glazing. In Hans Memling’s Diptych of Marten vanNieuwenhove (1487), for example, touches of blue color enliven the painted glass roundels set in the windows behind the Virgin. As Caen argues, this blue may well reveal the earliest known use of enamel paints in Netherlandish glass, more than a decade or so earlier than glass historians have supposed. Caen’s book, dense with new information derived from archival documents as well as from chemical analysis and other kinds of technical study, will undoubtedly serve as a foundation for further research for years to come.
Berserik and Caen collaborated on the two Checklists of silver-stained roundels and unipartite panels preserved in Belgium published by the Corpus Vitrearum in 2007 and 2011, with a third volume in preparation. These two volumes join the Checklists already published for Netherlandish roundels preserved in American collections (Timothy B. Husband, 1991) and in Great Britain (William Cole, 1993). The checklist series was established to illustrate and provide basic data on these small-scale works since so much has remained unstudied, and the Belgium volumes are rich in unpublished, little known, but interesting panels. The present volumes are also particularly well-researched, carefully sorting out complex relationships between versions of roundels and providing related material in prints and manuscript illumination. These checklists will make available an important resource for the study of Netherlandish art in general, since the glass panels depict a range of images, including Old and New Testment scenes, saints, proverbs, allegories, and classical subjects. In addition, Berserik and Caen have published a large group of sales records and inventories of important collections of glass, for instance that of Joan d’Huyvetter, identifying the listed panels when possible. These records will prove indispensable for tracking the provenance of glass panels.
The Corpus Vitrearum, first motivated by the devastating loss of stained glass windows during World War II, maintains its primary mission to record, preserve, and appreciate this beautiful art form. As a result of the Corpus’s efforts, medieval stained glass has become better known and more thoroughly studied. It is hoped that the Corpus Vitrearum’s work on later glass, of which these volumes by Berserik and Caen are part, will inspire similar attention to the impressive Netherlandish achievements in this field.
State University of New York, New Paltz