The Rise of the Painter over the Glazier

The Rise of the Painter over the Glazier

The replacement of glazing work with painting work in medieval glass.

Craftsman Style

All these contrivances to get rid of leads are evidence that the painter is coming more and more to the front in glass, and that the glazier is retiring more and more into the background. The avoidance of glazing follows, as was said, upon ultra-delicacy of painting, and dependence upon paint follows from the doing away with leads. We have thus not two new systems of work, but two manifestations of one idea - pictorial glass. The pictorial ideal inspired some of the finest glass painting the windows of William of Marseilles, at Arezzo, to mention only one instance among many. With the early Renaissance glass we arrive at masterly drawing, perfection of painting, and pictorial design, which is yet not incompatible with glass. One may prefer to it, personally, a more downright kind of work; but to deny such work its place, and a very high place, in art is to write oneself down a bigot at the least, if not an ass.

It is not until the painter took to depending upon paint for strength as well as delicacy of effect, trusting to it for the relief of his design, that it is quite safe to say he was on the wrong tack.

Towards the sixteenth century much more pronounced effects of modeling are aimed at, and reached, by the painter. Even in distinctly Gothic work the flesh is strongly painted, but not heavily. In flesh painting, at all events, the necessity of keeping the tone of the glass comparatively light was a safeguard, as yet, against over-painting.

The actual method of workmanship became less and less like ordinary oil or water-colour painting. It developed into a process of rubbing out rather than of laying on pigment. It was told how the glass painter in place of smear shadow began to use a stippled tint. The later glass painters made most characteristic use of "matt", as it was called. Having traced the outlines of a face, and fixed it in the fire, they would cover the glass with a uniform matt tint; and, when it was dry, with a stiff hoghair brush scrub out the lights. The high lights they would entirely wipe out, the half tints they would brush partly away, and so get their modeling, always by a process of eliminating shadow. The conscientious painter who meant to make sure his delicate tints would stand would submit this to a rather fierce fire, out of which would come, perhaps, only the ghost of the face. This he would strengthen by another matt brushed out in the same way as before, and fire it again.

Possibly it would require a third painting and a third fire ; that would depend upon the combined strength and delicacy at which he was aiming, and upon the method of the man. For, though one may indicate the technique in vogue at a given time, no one will suppose that painters at any time worked all in the same way. Some men no doubt could get more out of a single painting than others out of two; some were daring in their method, some timid; some made more use than others of the stick for scraping out lines of light; some depended more upon crisp touches with the sable "tracer" necessary, in any case, for the more delicate pencilling of the features; some would venture upon the ticklish operation of passing a thin wash of colour over matt or stippling before it was fired, at the risk of undoing all they had done, and so on, each man according to his skill and according to his temperament. But with whatever aid of scratching out lights, or touching in darks, or floating on tints, the practice in the sixteenth century was mainly, by a process of scrubbing lights out of matted or washed tints of brown, to get very considerable modelling, especially in flesh painting and in white draperies.

It is impossible in illustrations of the size here given to exemplify in any adequate manner the technique of the Early Renaissance glass-painters, but it is clear that the man who painted the small subject from the life of S. Bonnet, in the church dedicated to that saint at Bourges, (page 210) was a painter of marked power. A still finer example of painting is to be found in the head of William de Montmorency (opposite) from the church of S. Martin at Montmorency near Paris, really a masterpiece of portraiture, full of character, and strikingly distinguished in treatment. There is at the Louvre a painting of the same head which might well be the original of the glass. If the glass painter painted the picture he was worthy to rank with the best painters of his day. If the glass painter only copied it, he was not far short of that, for his skill is quite remarkable; and the simple means by which he has rendered such details as the chain armour and the collar, and the Order of S. Michael, supplementing the most delicate painting with touches of opaque colour, which in less skilful hands would have been brutal, show the master artist in glass painting.

Here, towards the end of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, we have glass painting carried about as far as it can go and yet not straying beyond the limits of what can best be done in glass. The apologists for the Renaissance would attribute all such work as this to the new revival. That would be as far wide of the mark as to claim for it that it was Gothic. The truth is, there is no marked dividing line between Gothic and Renaissance. It is only by the character of some perhaps quite slight monumental or architectural detail that we can safely classify a window of the early sixteenth century as belonging to one or the other style. It belongs, in fact, to neither. It is work of the transition period between the two. Gothic traditions lingered in the glass painter's shop almost as long as good work continued to be done there; so much so, that we may almost say that with those Gothic traditions died the art itself. For all that, it is not to be disputed that the most brilliant achievements in glass painting were certainly in the new style and inspired by the new enthusiasm for art.

Guillame De Montmorency, Montmorency.

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