Italian, Dutch, & French Glass

Italian, Dutch, & French Glass

History of glass work in the Italian, Dutch, and French Renaissance.

Craftsman Style

There is some misconception about what is called Renaissance glass. Glass painting was not native to Italy, and was never thoroughly acclimatized there, any more than Gothic architecture, to which it was the handmaid I was going to say, but better say the standard-bearer. Much glass was accordingly executed in Italy in defiance, not only of all tradition, but of all consistency and self-restraint. But even in Italy you will find sixteenth century glass as workmanlike as can be. The details from Arezzo and Bologna, above, overleaf, and on page 266, are pronouncedly Renaissance in type, but the method employed by the glass painter is as thoroughly mosaic as though he had worked in the thirteenth century. Not less glazier-like in treatment are the French Renaissance details from Rouen, on pages 75 and 347, from which it may be seen that a workmanlike treatment of glass was not confined to Gothic glaziers. It was less a question of style, in the historic sense, than of the men's acquaintance with the traditions of good work, and their readiness to accept the situation.

Mosaic Glass, Arezzo
Mosaic Glass, Arezzo.

Possibly the Dutch love of light and shade and especially of shade may account for the character of the Brussels glass. Against that it should be said that, elsewhere in Flanders, splendid glass was being done about the same time, less open to the charge of being too heavily painted at Liege, for example. But everywhere, and perhaps more than anywhere in the Netherlands, which became presently a great centre of glass painting, the tendency, towards the latter part of the century, was in the direction of undue reliance upon paint; of which came inevitably one of two things, either the shaded parts were heavy, dirty, and opaque, or they were weak and washy in effect. If, by means of painting, an artist can get (as he can) something worth getting not otherwise to be got, though we may differ as to the relative value of what he gains and what he sacrifices, it would be hard to deny him his preference, and his right to follow it; but if by painting on glass he attempts to get what could better be expressed by working in it, then clearly he has strayed (as Van Orley did) from the straight path, as glass workers read the map.

It is rather a curious thing that the avoidance of leading, the dependence upon glazing and paint, should manifest itself especially in windows designed on such a scale that it would have been quite easy to get all that was got in paint, and more, by the introduction of coloured glass; in windows, for example, on the scale of those at King's College, Cambridge, with figures much over lifesize, where the artist, you can see, has been afraid of leading, and has shirked it.

Salome, S Vincent, Rouen
Salome, S Vincent, Rouen.

Evidently he did not realise for how little the leads would count in the glass. He does not in that case fall into the error of painting with too heavy a hand, but he trusts too much to paint a trust so little founded that the paint has oftentimes perished, much to the disfigurement of his picture.

Renaissance Mosaic Glass
Renaissance Mosaic Glass.

The French glass painters of about the same period, though working upon a smaller scale, did not depart in the same way from the use of glazing; and where they did resort to painting, it was often with a view to a refinement of detail not otherwise to be obtained, as in the case of the delicate landscape backgrounds painted upon pale blue, which have a beauty all their own.

There is here no intention whatever of disparaging such work as that at S. Gudule. Any one capable of appreciating what is strongest and most delicate in glass must have had such keen delight in them that there is something almost like ingratitude in saying anything of them but what is in their praise. But the truth remains. Here is a branching off from old use; here the painter begins to wander from the path, and to lead after him generations of glass painters to come. It takes, perhaps, genius to lead men hopelessly astray!

This is Italian, Dutch, & French Glass. is Copyright © 2005-12 by International Styles