The Silver-Stained Roundels of Dirck Vellert, 1530-1540: an Artistic Response to New Urban Wealth in the early-16th Century Netherlands.
By Rachel Masters Carlisle The Courtauld Institute of Art and Florida State University
By the end of the Middle Ages, a large market for small-scale stained glass had formed in response to new urban wealth. North of the Alps, silver-stained roundels took precedence, and production of such roundels reached its height (both in quantity and quality) during the first half of the 16th century. All surviving primary sources, both physical and documentary evidence, suggest the manufacture of Netherlandish silver-stained roundels during the 16th century was commonly a cooperative effort between multiple craftsmen, often designated as either delineators (essentially, designers) or glass painters. However, Dirck Vellert, a prolific Flemish artist and member of the Antwerp painters’ guild of Saint Luke, appears to have been a notable exception, producing beautifully executed drawings, engravings, woodcuts, and silver- stained roundels bearing his monogram (D*V). As such, with his artistic output free of the variations in style or technical ability so often discernable in products collaboratively fabricated, Vellert’s individual artistic character can be assessed; and in his evident ability to balance invention and craftsmanship, he emerges as one of the great masters of the early 16th century.
Previously, scholars have convincingly determined and discussed the techniques employed by Vellert to produce his drawings, including, most notably, his tracing of pre-existing designs, and have made great strides in identifying the drawings’ chronological order. Here, we go further, providing new insight into Vellert’s complex and innovative working practices, highlighting, for example, his convention of appropriating modelli of his own invention for the formulation of original designs, and his modification of compositions in order to create marketable products of varying size and degree of elaboration. Our focus for discussion (within the context of the great social, intellectual and religious change that characterised 16th century Netherlandish culture) is a range of extant examples of working drawings and silver-stained roundels produced by Vellert between 1530-1540, particularly those belonging to the artist’s Life of the Virgin and The History of Abraham series.
Dirck Vellert: Designer, Glass Painter, Innovator: Technical Evidence
Based upon the presence of instructions on drawn roundel designs including indications of lead lines (in the case of borders), inscriptions, and technical instructions in the margins, roundel designers appear to have scarcely functioned as glass painters. Additionally, a few cases of documentation also provide evidence of collaboration. The Rijnsburg Abbey accounts of 1506-1507, for example, indicate funds were paid to Ewout Vos and two assistants to execute roundels designed by Cornelis (Engebrechtsz?) as well as an ironsmith to construct window fittings. One document also describes a dispute in 1514 between the glass painter Dieloff Clarsz and Pieter Cornelisz Kunst, an artist with whom he collaborated (1). Despite evidence that collaboration between glass painters and artists responsible for designing compositions was a common practice, Vellert appears to have been a noteworthy exception, producing beautifully executed drawings, engravings, woodcuts, and silver-stained roundels all bearing his monogram (2).
Dirk Vellert was born c. 1480-1485 in Amsterdam and was inducted as a master into the Antwerp painters’ guild of Saint Luke in 1511. He is documented as having served as dean of the guild in 1518 and again in 1526. He accepted pupils in 1512, 1514, 1528, and 1530 (3). In 1547, Vellert gave a procuration to two lawyers in Amsterdam and presumably died soon after (4). Although the appearance of signatures and monograms upon silver-stained roundels is rare, examples of silver-stained roundels signed by Vellert include The Triumph of Faith, The Triumph of Time, The Judgment of Cambyses, and a silver-stained roundel directly relevant to this study, The Covenant Between God and Abraham, the Appearance of God to Abraham, and the Circumcision of Isaac (Fig. 1). When considering the oeuvre of Vellert, it is evident the artist occasionally borrowed motifs from the work of Italian artists and quite often derived compositional models from the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, whom he hosted during the German artist’s visit to Antwerp in 1521 (5). However, Vellert also interpreted the designs of other artists to create individualized, creative variations suitable for the circular format of roundels with which he was working rather than to produce exact replicas.
A large number of drawings, many of them designs for silver-stained roundels attributed to Vellert survive (6). These drawings can generally be divided into three identifiable types: original designs, copies of designs, and presentation drawings. Original designs are drawn to scale and often provide indications of lead lines in the case of borders, inscriptions, and technical instructions in the margins. These inclusions indicate a collaboration of multiple artists and suggest that designers rarely functioned as glass painters. The second type of drawing, drawn copies, survive in greater quantities. Drawn copies differ from original designs because lesser artists generally complete them and inscriptions and instructions are omitted. Also, while still faithful to the original composition, the drawn copies are often created using heavy outlines and feature minimal shading, presumably as a result of the common production practice of tracing (7). A third type of drawing related to the production of silver-stained roundels is presentation drawings. Presentation drawings are executed on prepared paper and enhanced with washes and highlights of white and occasionally gold (8). Because of their extensive detail and subtlety of tone, these drawings were much more suited as presentation pieces for clients rather than workshop designs. Today, surviving drawings of all three types are invaluable in understanding the production of silver-stain roundels as a whole. Over fifty drawings including examples of all three types attributed to Vellert survive. By examining drawings in conjunction with silver-stained roundels, specifically when drawings and silver-stained roundels represent components of the same series, the unusual working methods of Vellert can begin to be understood.
The History of Abraham Series
Four extant objects comprise Vellert’s The History of Abraham series. A roundel entitled The Covenant Between God and Abraham, the Appearance of God to Abraham, and the Circumcision of Isaac, by Vellert measures 27.9 centimeters in diameter and is located in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. With the presence of “D ★ V” faintly inscribed beneath the foot of God in the composition, there is no doubt the silver-stained roundel is the work of Vellert. A mysteriously similar roundel, Scenes from the Life of Abraham of the Victoria and Albert Museum does not bear the artist’s monogram (Fig. 2).
Two drawings, within a collection of over fifty surviving drawings executed by the master, also relate directly to the Rijksmuseum and Victoria and Albert Museum roundels. These circular drawings depict Abraham and the Pharaoh and God Appearing to Abraham and Abraham Entertaining the Three Angels (Fig. 3) (9). These drawings are of slightly smaller dimensions than the Rijksmuseum roundel, but significantly (and perhaps somewhat alarming), both drawings have been trimmed significantly along the perimeter (10). Taking these changes to the original format into account and presuming both drawings once had a slightly larger circumference, the designs may have originally matched the size of The Covenant Between God and Abraham, the Appearance of God to Abraham, and the Circumcision of Isaac of the Rijksmuseum almost exactly.
Upon careful inspection, it is evident that while overall dimensions and spatial relationships differ somewhat, the figural elements of Scenes from the Life of Abraham and The Covenant Between God and Abraham, the Appearance of God to Abraham, and the Circumcision of Isaac relate in size exactly. Several notable changes are visible between the compositions of the two roundels. First, the placement of pigment differs throughout, and the Rijksmuseum roundel employs a greater range of tone. Second, the architecture depicted in the Victoria and Albert Museum roundel is meant to evoke Gothic style architecture with three intricate windows and circular, stone parapets. In contrast, the architecture depicted in the Rijksmuseum roundel embodies Renaissance architectural style with marble columns crowned with capitols of the Corinthian order and intricate details (possibly feline faces) depicted along the frieze. Both roundels include the signature foreground shrubbery and spiky trees of Vellert; however, these details are more expertly executed in The Covenant Between God and Abraham, the Appearance of God to Abraham, and the Circumcision of Isaac. In the Rijksmuseum glass, the God figure holds a translucent orb in his left hand and his garments have been modified to include additional detail including fringed robes and a three-tiered crown. Lastly, there is a greater sense of depth in the Rijksmuseum roundel, created using delicate tones and a distant landscape appearing to recede skillfully into deep space. A roundel in situ at Cholmondeley Castle, Cheshire measuring approximately 22.7 centimeters in diameter follows exactly the composition of the smaller, less elaborately rendered Scenes from the Life of Abraham.
Life of the Virgin Series
A similar phenomenon to that found across the History of Abraham series may be observed in two drawings of Vellert both entitled The Presentation in the Temple (Fig. 4, Fig. 5) from the artist’s Life of the Virgin series. The smaller of these drawings measures 23.8 centimetres in diameter and is beautifully executed using the chiaroscuro technique. The pen and brown ink drawing on greenish-blue prepared paper is in the typical style of the presentation drawings described previously. The larger of the drawings measures 28.0 centimeters in diameter and is a linear drawing executed primarily using contour lines and minimal shading. As with the silver-stained roundels depicting Abraham, although figural and other elements relate in size precisely, overall dimensions and spatial relationships have been modified. In the latter of the two related drawings, the artist has expanded the interior setting to lengthen the columns, widen the lunette, and depict the arch more entirely with a coffered ceiling flanked by putti (11). A lamb has been added to the altar steps and a boy tightly grasping a bird has been added to the foreground. New figures have been drawn near to both the left and right edges of the format, two soldiers have been drawn in the background, and a landscape has been made visible through the arch. Despite relatively drastic compositional changes, upon close inspection, the figural elements are reproduced in exactly the same size in both the larger and smaller versions of The Presentation in the Temple (12).
A roundel in situ at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Berwick-Upon-Tweed measuring approximately 23.0 centimeters in diameter follows exactly the composition of the smaller, less ornately drawn The Presentation in the Temple design. It has been previously proposed and expertly defended by Ellen Konowitz that the revisions in composition as seen in The History of Abraham and Life of the Virgin series were a working method of Vellert. While this is undoubtedly true, because silver-stained roundels have survived that reproduce the compositions of both smaller, less intricate, earlier designs (Scenes from the Life of Abraham, Victoria and Albert Museum; the silver-stained roundel in situ at Cholmondeley Castle, Chesire following the composition of Scenes from the Life of Abraham; and the silver-stained roundel in situ at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Berwick-Upon-Tweed following the composition of The Presentation in the Temple) and larger, more elaborate, later designs (The Covenant Between God and Abraham, the Appearance of God to Abraham, and the Circumcision of Isaac in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) an additional possibility, beyond mere revision of a composition, presents itself.
Vellert’s Roundels in Context: Typological Pairs and the Larger Narrative
As surviving silver-stained roundels and the drawings made for them, taken together, make clear, the majority of such roundels were not intended as single subject compositions but rather represent a single component of a larger programme. These sequences of roundels appear to have been organised in a number of ways. First, silver-stained roundels could be displayed chronologically, to illustrate a narrative sequence or text. Popular narrative series often depicted Old Testament subjects, Infancy, Passion, and Marian cycles. Second, silver-stained roundels could have been displayed as a pair, specifically one Old Testament scene paired with one New Testament scene. This choice would adhere to the idea of typology, a popular trend in the Middle Ages. This method was deeply rooted in visual culture, with a tendency to read Old Testament events as prefiguration of New Testament events. The use of typology within programs of silver-stained roundels has been documented as evident in multiple drawings created by Vellert. For example, two of his designs for silver-stained roundels, Moses Sweetening the Bitter Waters of Mara and The Marriage at Cana, illustrate a typological pair (the miracle performed by Moses at Mara is considered a prefiguration of Christ’s first miracle at the Marriage at Cana) (13). Third, to create a more complex programme, narrative sequences and typological pairs could be combined to create essentially two related cycles, one Old Testament narrative and one New Testament narrative to be seen in conjunction with one another (14).
It is within the third category that I contend The History of Abraham and Life of the Virgin series fall. Mary, sometimes referred to as the New Abraham, may be considered a parallel to the Old Testament patriarch. Mary, like Abraham, acts as an exemplar of obedient service; she silently observes the sacrifice and renewed life of her son, resulting in the establishment of a new covenant. Thus, considering The History of Abraham and Life of the Virgin series as a single, complex narrative program, the once bizarre yet precisely related technical evidence surrounding the silver-stained roundels and their related drawings becomes clear.
Vellert as Roundel artist in Conclusion
When considering the roundels and drawings for them produced by Vellert between 1530-1540, changes in composition should not be perceived linearly as revisions leading to a singular, improved final product. Rather, appropriation of the artist’s own modelli and compositional modifications should be considered calculated variations executed to create silver-stained roundels in two sizes and levels of complexity. While this practice was perhaps not common, it undoubtedly occurred and was employed by Master ES while working in a different medium. Master ES executed three engravings known as Large, Small, and Smallest Virgins of Einsiedeln, each varying both in size and level of elaboration in their imagery. These engravings, intended as souvenirs for religious pilgrims travelling to the Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln in 1466, would have appealed to purchasers with varying budgets or needs (15). In a similar vein, Dirck Vellert created a lucrative business within the burgeoning market for small-scale stained glass by targeting a broad audience of patrons through the creation of silver-stained roundels of varying size, complexity, and presumably, price.
(1) TIMOTHY HUSBAND, “Introduction”, Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: Silver Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels (Corpus Vitrearum Checklist IV), Baltimore, National Gallery of Art, 1991, 21. For Rijnsburg Abbey accounts see: JEREMY BANGS, “Rijnsburg Abbey: Additional Documents of Furniture, Artists, Musicians, and Buildings, 1500-1570”, Bulletin Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond, 74, Delft, Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond, November 1974.
(2) T. HUSBAND, “Introduction” […], op. cit., 21. BERNARD RACKHAM, “Earlier Netherlandish Glass-Painting”, A Guide to the Collections of Stained Glass, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1936, 110.
(3) TIMOTHY HUSBAND, “The Roundel Series of Dirick Vellert”, The Luminous Image: Painted Glass Roundels in the Lowlands, 1480-1560, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995, 142.
(4) F. W. H. HOLLSTEIN, “Dirk Jacobsz Vellert (Master DV with the Star)”, Hollstein’s Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts ca. 1450-1700: Volume XXXIII Jan van de Velde II to Dirk Vellert, Amsterdam, M. Hertzberger, 1989, 187.
(5) Perhaps the most poignant example of Albrecht Dürer’s impact on Dirk Vellert is visible in the latter’s designs for roundels depicting the cycle of the Apocalypse. The designs are based on Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse woodcuts of 1498, which Dirk Vellert received as a gift from Albrecht Dürer himself in January 1521. To read Albrecht Dürer’s journal entries describing his contact with Dirk Vellert see: HANS RUPPRICH, Dürer Schriftlicher Nachlass I, Berlin, Deutscher Verein fur Kunstwissenschaft 1956, 157, 164, 169.
(6) For detailed information on the drawings and working methods of Dirk Vellert see: ELLEN KONOWITZ, “Drawings as Intermediary Stages: Some Working Methods of Dirk Vellert and Albrecht Dürer Re-Examined”, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 20, Netherlands, Stichting Nederlandse Kunsthistorische Publicaties, 1990-1991, 142-152. ELLEN KONOWITZ, “More ‘Drawings as Intermediary Stages’: Dirk Vellert’s ‘History of Abraham’”, Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art, 5:2, Historians of Netherlandish Art, 2013, https://jhna.org/INDEX.PHP/VOL-52/201-MORE-DRAWINGS-AS-INTERMEDIARY-STAGESDIRK-VELLERTS-HISTORY-OF-ABRAHAM
(7) To read more on tracing practices in stained glass workshops see: J. A. KNOWLES, “Medieval Cartoons for Stained Glass”, The Journal of the American Institute of Architects, 15, Harrisburg, American Institute of Architects, 1927, 8-22. VIRGINIA C. RAGUIN, Stained glass in thirteenth-century Burgundy, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1982, 112.
(8) T. HUSBAND, “Introduction” […], op. cit., 19-20.
(9) E. KONOWITZ, “More ‘Drawings as Intermediary Stages’” […], op. cit. https://jhna.org/INDEX.PHP/VOL-52/201-MORE-DRAWINGS-AS-INTERMEDIARY-STAGESDIRK-VELLERTS-HISTORY-OF-ABRAHAM
(10) T. HUSBAND, “The Roundel Series of Dirick Vellert” […], op. cit., 156.
(11) E. KONOWITZ, “Drawings as Intermediary Stages” […], op. cit., 144.
(13) ELLEN KONOWITZ, “The Glass Designer Dierick Vellert”, Northern Renaissance Stained Glass: Continuity and Transformations, Worcester, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, 1987, 22-30.
(14) There are also possible examples of combining two Old Testament scenes with one New Testament scene within a single programme. This combination would reflect the popular compositions within the Biblia Pauperum.
(15) SUSIE NASH, “Printmakers in the Rhine Valley Inventing, Marketing, and Distributing Images”, Northern Renaissance Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, 129-141. For further information on engravings executed by Master ES for the Benedictine Monastery at Einsiedeln see: E. W. HOFFMAN, “Some Engravings Executed by the Master ES for the Benedictine Monastery at Einsiedeln”, The Art Bulletin, 43, New York, College Art Association, 1961, 231-237.
BANGS, JEREMY. “Rijnsburg Abbey: Additional Documents of Furniture, Artists, Musicians, and Buildings, 1500-1570,” Bulletin Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond, 74, Delft, Koninklijke Nederlandse Oudheidkundige Bond, November 1974.
GLÜCK, GUSTAV. “Beiträge zur Geschichte der Antwerpner Malerei in XVI Jahrhundert: Der wahre Name des Meisters D*V,” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses, 22, Vienna, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, 1901, 1-34.
HOFFMAN, E.W. “Some Engravings Executed by the Master ES for the Benedictine Monastery at Einsiedeln,” The Art Bulletin, 43, New York, College Art Association, 1961, 231-237.
HOLLSTEIN, F.W.H. “Dirk Jacobsz Vellert (Master DV with the Star),” Hollstein’s Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts ca. 1450-1700: Volume XXXIII Jan van de Velde II to Dirk Vellert, Amsterdam, M. Hertzberger, 1989, 187.
HUSBAND, TIMOTHY. “Introduction,” Stained Glass before 1700 in American Collections: Silver Stained Roundels and Unipartite Panels (Corpus Vitrearum Checklist IV), Baltimore, National Gallery of Art, 1991, 8-33.
HUSBAND, TIMOTHY. “The Roundel Series of Dirick Vellert,” The Luminous Image: Painted Glass Roundels in the Lowlands, 1480-1560, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995, 142-158.
KNOWLES, J.A. “Medieval Cartoons for Stained Glass,” The Journal of the American Institute of Architects, 15, Harrisburg, American Institute of Architects, 1927, 8-22.
KONOWITZ, ELLEN. “Drawings as Intermediary Stages: Some Working Methods of Dirk Vellert and Albrecht Dürer Re-Examined” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 20, Netherlands, Stichting Nederlandse Kunsthistorische Publicaties 1990-1991, 142-152.
KONOWITZ, ELLEN. “The Glass Designer Dierick Vellert,” Northern Renaissance Stained Glass: Continuity and Transformations, Worcester, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, 1987, 22-30.
KONOWITZ, ELLEN. “More ‘Drawings as Intermediary Stages’: Dirk Vellert’s ‘History of Abraham,’” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art, 5:2, Historians of Netherlandish Art, 2013, http://www.jhna.org/index.php/vol-52/201-more-drawings-as-intermediary-stagesdirk-vellerts-history-of-abraham.
NASH, SUSIE. “Printmakers in the Rhine Valley Inventing, Marketing, and Distributing Images,” Northern Renaissance Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, 129-141.
RACKHAM, BERNARD. “Earlier Netherlandish Glass-Painting,” A Guide to the Collections of Stained Glass, London, Victoria and Albert Museum,1936, 103-112.
RAGUIN, VIRGINIA C. Stained glass in thirteenth-century Burgundy, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1982, 112.
RUPPRICH, HANS. Dürer Schriftlicher Nachlass I, Berlin, Deutscher Verein fur Kunstwissenschaft 1956, 157, 164, 169.