Needle Point Patterns & Designs

Needle Point Patterns & Designs

Swiss needle point patterns and designs in glass painting.

Craftsman Style

Allusion has been made to the glass painter's use of the point for scraping out lights, and especially diapers upon glass coated with pigment. These are often quite lace-like in their delicacy. That would be a poor compliment if it meant that the glass painter had had no more wit than to imitate the effects produced in a material absolutely unlike glass. But it is not merely for want of a better word that the term lace-like is used. It is strictly appropriate, and for a very good reason. It was explained how from the first the glass painter would use the stick end of his brush to scrape out sharp lights in his painting, or even diaper patterns out of a tint. The latest glass painters made more and more use of the point, and of a finer point than the brush end, until, in Swiss work, they adopted the pen and the needle itself. It is not surprising, then, that point-work should resemble point-work, though the one be in thread and the other on glass. The strange thing would have been if it were not so. Thus it comes about that much of the Swiss diaper work is most aptly described as lace-like in effect.

The field of a small shield is frequently diapered with a pattern so fine that it could only have been produced with a fine point. Some of the diapers opposite may be identified as portions of heraldic shields. On a shield it may be taken to represent the engraving of the metal surface of the thing itself; and, indeed, here again is a significant resemblance between two technical processes.

To scratch with a needle or with a graver is much the same thing; and thus many a Swiss diaper suggests damascening, and might just as well have been executed in bright lines of gold or silver filigree, beaten into lines graven in steel or iron, as scraped out of a tint on glass.

Examples Of Scratching Out.

But the use of the point was by no means reserved for ornamental detail. It became the main resource of the painter, and so much so, that this technique, or this development of technique, is the most striking characteristic of Swiss glass painting, if that should be called painting which has really more affinity with etching.

For the laying on of the paint in the form of solid colour, or of matted tint, or of skilfully floated wash, is only the groundwork of the Swiss glass painter's method. It scarcely needs to be explained how admirably the point adapted itself to the representation of hair, fur, feathers, and the like. The familiar bears, for example, the device of the city of Berne, which occur very frequently in Swiss heraldic work, are rendered at Lucerne in the most marvellously skilful manner. First a juicy wash of colour is floated all over the body of the beast, more or less translucent, but judiciously varied so as to give a pen pres the modelling of the creature. Then with a fine point the lines of the fur are scraped out, always with an eye to the further development of the modelling. Finally, the sharp lights are softened, where necessary, with delicate tint, and a few fine hair-lines are put in with a brush in dark brown.

By no conceivable method of execution could certain textures be better rendered than this. A similar process is adopted in rendering the damascened surface of slightly rounded shields; but in that case the modelling of the ground is first obtained by means of matt, not wash.

Black as a local colour, whether by way of heraldic tincture or to represent velvet in costume, was very generally used; but in such small quantities always as entirely to justify its use. The practice, that is to say, referred to on page 57, with reference to the German work at Shrewsbury, was carried further. This was quite a different thing from what occurs, for example, in a late window at Montmorency, where four brown Benedictine monks are frocked in muddy paint: that is a fault of judgment no skill in execution could make good. In the case of black used by way of local colour the drawing lines were of course scraped out in clear glass, and toned, if need were, with tint. The hair, cap, and feathers of the figure opposite illustrate the processes of execution above described; the chain armour about the man's neck is also very deftly suggested.

The use of the point went further than rendering the texture of hair, and so on. It was used for the rendering of all texture and the completion of modelling everywhere. The Swiss glass painter did very much what is done in large when one draws on brown or grey paper in white and black; only instead of black chalk he used brown paint, and instead of putting on white chalk he scraped aw7ay a half tint with which he had begun by coating the glass; and of course he wrorked in small.

Swiss Needle Point Work
Swiss Needle Point Work.

One knows by experience how much more telling the white crayon is than the black, how much more modelling you seem to get with very little drawing; and so it is in glass; and so it was that the glass painter depended so much more upon taking out lights than upon putting in darks. The difference between the Swiss manner and the process already described in reference to Renaissance church glass was mainly that, working upon so much smaller a scale, the artist depended so much more upon the point. His work is, in fact, a kind of etching. It is the exact reverse of drawing in pen and ink, where the draughtsman works line by line up to his darkest shadow. Here he works line by line to clearest light, precisely as the etcher draws his negative upon copper, only on glass it is the positive picture which is produced. So far as manipulation is concerned the two processes are identical. It is indeed quite within the bounds of possibility that the method of the glass painter (and not that of the damascener, as generally supposed) may first have put the etcher upon the track of his technique.

The method of workmanship employed by the painter is shown pretty clearly in the picture above. In spite of a certain granular surface given by the stone employed by the lithographer in reproducing the design, it is quite clearly seen how the man's armour and the texture of the silk in his sleeves is all obtained by the point. The trace of the needle is not clearly shown in the flesh, except in the hand upon his hip; but in the next picture it is everywhere apparent in the shading of the architecture, at the top of the page, in the damascening of the tops of shields below, in the drawing of the pastoral staff, in the modelling of the mitre and the representation of the jewels upon it, no less than in the rendering of the texture of the silk.

This ultra-delicacy of workmanship was naturally carried to its furthest extent upon white glass or upon white and stain, but the same method was employed with pot-metal colour; and, during the early part of the sixteenth century at least, pot-metal colour was used when it conveniently could be, and the leading was sometimes cleverly schemed, though the glass employed was often crude in colour. Eventually, in Switzerland as everywhere, enamel colour succeeded pot-metal, by which, of course, it would have been impossible correctly to render the tinctures of elaborately quartered shields on the minute scale to which they were customarily drawn. At Lucerne, for example, there are some small circular medallions with coats of arms not much bigger than occur on the back of an old-fashioned watchcase. Needless to say that there the drawing is done entirely with a point. This kind of thing is, of course, glass painting in miniature ; it is not meant to say that it is effective ; but it is none the less marvellously done. It was at its best, roughly speaking, from 1530 to a little later than 1600. Some of the very best that was ever done, now at the Rath-haus at Lucerne, bears date from 16061609; there is some also at the Hof-kirche there; but that is out of the reach of ordinary sight, and this is placed where it can conveniently be studied. The point work, it should be understood, is still always scraped out of brown, or it may be black. The enamel that may be used with it is floated on independently of this; and as time went on enamel was of course very largely used, especially in the seventeenth century. To the credit of the Swiss it should be said that, alone among later glass painters, they were at once conscientious and expert in the chemistry of their art, and used enamel which has been proof against time. They knew their trade, and practised it devotedly. Possibly it was the small scale upon which they worked which enabled them to fuse the enamel thoroughly with the glass. It is due to them also to say that, though their style may have been finicky, there was nothing feeble about their workmanship ; that was masterly. And they remain the masters of delicate manipulation and finish in glass painting.

Although the needle point was used to most effective purpose in Swiss glass it did not of course entirely supersede other methods. At the Germanic Museum at Nuremberg (where there is a fair amount of good work, 15021672) there is some matted tint which is shaded and then lined in brown, much after the manner of one of Durer's woodcuts. It has very much the appearance of a pen drawing shaded, as many of the old masters' drawings were, in brown wash.

Swiss Needle Point Work
Swiss Needle Point Work.

A fair amount of simple figure work in white and stain continued to be done,, in which outline went for a good deal, and matted shadow was only here and there helped out with the point. In landscape backgrounds shade tint was sometimes broadly and directly floated on. But as often as not shading was executed to a great extent with the needle, whilst local colour was painted with enamel. Even in association with admirable heraldry and figure work, one finds distant figure groups and landscapes painted in this way. They look more like coloured magic-lantern slides than painted window glass.

Sometimes subtlety of workmanship was carried rather beyond the bounds of discretion, as when at Nuremberg (1530) faces were painted in tint against clear glass, without outline, the mere shading, delicate as it is, being depended upon to relieve them from the ground. It must be confessed that, near to the eye, it does that; but the practice does not recommend itself.

It is remarkable how very faint a matt of colour on the surface of transparent glass gives a sort of opacity to it which distinguishes it from the clear ground. Sometimes white enamel is used, sometimes perhaps a mere coat of flux: it is difficult to say what it is, but there is often on the lightest portions of the painted glass no more than the veriest film, to show that it has been painted.

It is obvious that glass of the most delicate character described must be the work of the designer; and it seems clear, from numerous drawings extant, which are evidently the cartoons for Swiss window panes, that the draughtsman contemplated carrying out his design himself. At all events, he frequently left so much out of these drawings, that, if he trusted to the painting of another, no little of the credit of the draughtsmanship was due to that other, and he was at least part designer of the window. In glass where painting is carried to a high state of perfection it goes without saying that the painter must be an artist second only to the designer. Invention and technical power do not always go together. But if the designer can paint his own glass, and will, so much the better. It is more than probable that the best glass is the autograph work of the designer.

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