The Production of Stained Glass in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant from the XVth to the XVIIIth Centuries: Materials and Techniques

The Production of Stained Glass in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant from the XVth to the XVIIIth Centuries: Materials and Techniques

Fig. 1. The Production of Stained Glass in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant from the XVth to the XVIIIth Centuries: Materials and Techniques

The Production of Stained Glass in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant from the XVth to the XVIIIth Centuries: Materials and Techniques, by J. M. A. Caen, English language, hardback, 456 p., 450 colour illustrations., 240 x 320 mm, Brepols publishers, 2009. Retail price: EUR 85.00.

The medieval Low Countries (roughly modern day Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) were a major centre for the production of stained and painted glass, supplying markets across northern Europe and the Iberian peninsula. This wide-ranging book traces the history of the craft in this region, especially in the County of Flanders and Duchy of Brabant, over three centuries of economic growth and contraction, the discovery of new materials and methods of production, and the shifting tastes of customers, religious and secular. It also contains new technical discoveries of international importance. Reflecting its origins as a successful PhD thesis, the book is arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, and is divided into five parts, each with subsidiary chapters. [Fig. 1]

Part One: Sources and Methodology

Chapter one consists of a brief introduction to the technical treatises which are discussed in greater depth elsewhere in the book and mention of the records of craft guilds that were consulted. Chapter two of this section lists some of the glass inspected during the course of the author’s research while the final chapter of this first part of the book discusses thirteen case studies from which small pieces of glass were examined in laboratory conditions and which form the basis of subsequent chapters.

The case studies are interesting on several counts. They reminds readers that Flemish glass painters were active in late Medieval and early Renaissance Spain with, for example, Utrecht merchants in Burgos procuring glass for the windows of León cathedral between 1419 and 1424 and the Flemish glass painter, Nicholaes Rombouts the elder, employed at the church of the Charterhouse of Milaflores, in Burgos around 1481–83. Here, as elsewhere in the book, the text is enlivened by a memorable side story as when Queen Isabella of Castile and León (1451–1504), is said to have visited the Charterhouse church in 1483 and personally smashed a window depicting the coat-of-arms of a merchant donor, Martin de Soria, proclaiming that only those of her father Juan II should be displayed in the church he founded (p. 50).

Other case studies include glass of c. 1400 from Bruges town hall; glass of c. 1499 from the former guild chapel of St Luke in Bruges (now in Bruges museum); windows of c. 1514 at the monastery of Santa Maria de Vitória de Batalha, Portugal, which show the influence of artists from the Low Countries; seventeenth-century windows at Christchurch College, Oxford, (England) attributed to the Dutch glass painter, Abraham van Linge, and samples from nearly thirty roundels of different dates spanning the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

Part Two: ‘Historical Perspectives’


The author reviews pre-1900 literature about stained glass in the Low Countries. He begins by examining how stained glass was described by writers from the sixteenth century onwards. As in England, genealogy and heraldry attracted most of the early interest. A good example of this predilection can be seen in the reproductions of some early seventeenth-century notes of windows in Ghent Cathedral which include carefully drawn copies of the heraldry and, by contrast, only a brief written description of the iconographical scenes (p. 78). An interesting subsection of this chapter is devoted to ‘visitor guides’, with a notably early example published in 1681 for visitors wanting to appreciate the splendid stained glass windows in St John’s church, Gouda, (p. 84). The chapter concludes with a survey of literature concerning the controversial restoration of some important windows in the nineteenth century which saw two of Belgium’s leading artists of the period pitted against one another, with Jean-Baptiste Capronnier (1814–1891) accused by the Puginite, Jean-Baptiste Bethune (1821–1894), of over-restoration and recreation.

Craftsmen, artists and their professional organisations

The author draws distinctions between towns in the southern Netherlands such as Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges which had glass painters guilds in the Middle Ages and those in the north such as Utrecht, Haarlem and Dordrecht where guilds were only founded in the late fifteenth century or during the course of the next two hundred years. The author explains that guilds were not identical. Sometimes glaziers formed a specialist professional group or natie within the arts-centred St Luke’s guild. In Brussels, for example, they belonged to the same natie as painters and gilders. In Malines, on the other hand, the glaziers belonged to the masons’ guild and in Louvaine to the goldsmiths’ guild.

Workshops were organised under masters. This seems to have been a managerial role rather than a reflection of artistic ability. Changing economic and working practices saw divisions of labour develop within the craft with glass painters being distinguished from glaziers in Antwerp by 1534 (p.98). Single workshops might have employed a range of specialist painters. The role of apprenticeships is also considered. In Brussels and elsewhere the term was four years. The author, rejecting the suggestion that guilds were technically conservative and opposed to innovation, suggests that guilds placed a special emphasis on quality as a unique selling point against cheaper, non-regulated competitors.

Part Three: ‘Chemical Perspectives’

Abraded Hebrew text on green flashed glass.

Fig. 2. Abraded Hebrew text on green flashed glass.

The first chapter in this part of the book looks at the production of glass and enamel paints over several centuries, and publishes the results of the author’s work on the case studies described earlier. In general terms, superior quality potash-based glass from France was gradually replaced by high lime, low alkali glass (HLLA) from Lorraine from 1450 onwards until by 1535 HLLA glass was predominant. Six different types of flashed glass are idemtified. Apart from variations of the well known red coloured flashed glass, green glass flashed and abraded for aesthetic effects is noted at St John’s church, Gouda, where a Hebrew text is inscribed by abrasion in the hem of a garment worn by a Pharisee in window 13, ‘Christ Disputing with the Doctors in the Temple,’ dated to 1559 –1561. There are also two never previously published discoveries: blue glass flashed on a red glass substrate to produce a wonderful purple colour (the Monastery of Batalha, beginning of the sixteenth century) and uncoloured glass flashed on a yellow–ochre substrate (The Charterhouse of Miraflores, Spain, c. 1485). [Fig. 2]

The next chapter focuses on enamel paints. The transition from Peinture en mosaique to Peinture en apret seems to have begun during the last quarter of the fifteenth century and was complete by the end of the sixteenth century. The chapter focuses on the author’s successful creation of enamel paints used in the period, with the aid of historical recipes and laboratory research.  A major study is described into the recreation of the enamel paints used by Abraham van Linge on windows painted for Christ Church cathedral, Oxford, in the 1630s and which concludes that the paint was similar to that used elsewhere in the same period.  The third chapter in this section consists of the results of chemical analyses carried out by the author on the ‘case study’ glass mentioned earlier in the book.  Among the discoveried were cases of panes of the same date being painted by artists using different styles, confirming divisions of skill within workshops. 

Part Four – ‘Integrated Perspectives on Materials and Technique’

Design sources and cartoons

The author examines the production and supply of drawings prints and cartoons for stained glass artists, especially those producing sixteenth-century roundels. It categorises these designs as: ‘mother drawings’; ‘workbench drawings’, roundels after prints, and multiple iconographic sources.

The first category are those made by artists for exact copying, such as the designs produced by the glass painter Dierick (Dirick) Vellert of Antwerp (fl. c.1511–40) who also signed some roundels with his monogram D*V. Panels produced from the second group, ‘workbench drawings’, were more plentiful and often show minor differences with the mother drawing as well as being less detailed. Designs in the third category are almost always traced accurately by placing a pane of transparent glass over the model. The final category listed by the author is designs formed of elements from multiple sources, where artists might reproduce only parts of a design or amalgamate designs from two or more different sources

Designs were copied onto glass by several methods. The first saw small pin pricks made along the outlines of the initial drawing followed by a scattering of powder applied from the back of the design producing a mirror image copy on the glass. This method is known as the ‘spolvero’ technique. It is possible that an intermediate stencil was used instead of the original drawing, in which case the mirroring effect could be eliminated by dusting the design from the front. Tracing designs was another, and probably more widely used, technique.

Vidimuses and drawings for larger monumental window are considered separately. The author cites well known examples such as those surviving at St John’s church, Gouda. Some designs contain indications of colour while others anticipate the arrangement of saddle bars. Most designs were made on paper and large designs were realised on sheets of paper glued together. A sixteenth-century document cited by the author regarding the production of windows in the church of St Bavo in Ghent mentions a payment to a Pieteren van der Haghen for taking the measurements of two large windows and preparing the templates for the artist by glueing pieces of tracing paper together (p. 221). Cartoons designed for one scheme could be reused elsewhere. When designers died such designs were sometimes mentioned in their inventories. Some clients ‘bought’ the cartoons from the designers, as at Gouda.

Glass use and production

Until the late sixteenth century only the better off could afford to glaze their homes, even then typically only the upper lights of windows were fitted with glass; the lower part being enclosed by wooden shutters. Among the less well off, however, the upper lights might be fitted with paper or linen to resemble glass, in extreme cases even painted to mimic the appearance of lead lines. The author cites a sixteenth-century manuscript which explained how to create this effect by brushing a mixture of wax and turpentine onto a sheet of linen stretched over a frame. Paper ‘glass’ could be made by painting the lead lines and then coating the paper in linseed oil (p. 226). As economic prosperity spread, so too the demand for window glass grew, triggering profound changes in the industry. HLLA glass from the greater Lorraine region and often known as ‘Borgoens’ glass (from Burgundy) became more popular as it was cheaper and made in large sheets by the cylinder process, as compared to that produced by the ‘crown’ technique preferred by the French glass makers. Based on the size of some of the pieces used in the late fifteenth-century figures of St George and St Michael from the former guild chapel of St Luke in Bruges (now in Bruges Museum), the author estimates that they were cut from sheets measuring at least 38.5cm x 16.5cm . He also cites claims that pieces measuring 84 cm x 42 cm were produced in 1557 (p. 232). By contrast, French crowns probably had a dimension of 50cm. An eighteenth-century writer quoted by the author says that whether in England or France, Crown glass was produced in discs of between 3 to 3.5 feet (p.233). Glazing with simple diamond shape or lozenge quarries probably reflected the most economical way of using a piece of crown glass efficiently as two full quarries and two half quarries could be made from a single pane (p. 243). For a long time the main craft guilds preferred the French crown glass for its superior quality. In 1470 the Antwerp guild insisted that only ‘Franche glas’ should be used for stained glass windows and central plain panels with ‘Rijins’ (Rhenish) glass banished to the borders (p. 236) In 1657 a fight was witnessed at an Antwerp wharf after a glazier called a colleague ‘ a scoundrel, a poltroon and a thief’’ during a dispute about a delivery of inferior glass. (p. 238) Sometimes, however, poor quality was inevitable. After a hailstorm in Walcheren in 1726 window glass was even imported from Scotland, although a witness reported the result looked terrible (p. 240).

Glass cutting

Cutting was another skill which evolved during the period examined by the author. Initially glaziers used the traditional method of breaking glass by passing a hot iron along a given line and then snapping it before refining the final shape with a grozing iron, a metal tool with a hooked end which leaves a characteristic ‘bitten’ edge. However, after the Italian technique of cutting with diamonds was introduced into the Low Countries around 1500, working practices began to change (p. 244). Guild ordinances from Antwerp dating from 1472 – 1488, stressed the need for glass to be cut straight so that it could be set tightly in the lead.

Glass paints and enamels

Painted glass was known as ‘dobbelen wercke’ (double work) and was correspondingly more expensive than ‘enkel wercke’ (single work, simple glazing or leaded work) (p, 251). The most common pigment for painting before the introduction of enamels, was a red-brown iron oxide, mixed after 1500, with a substance close to copper oxide. The result varied from a strong black for trace outlines to a slightly greyish shadow.

A sixteenth-century recipe for the manufacture of this ‘grisaille’ paint stipulated one part of iron oxide powder collected from a blacksmith’s anvil and half a part of high lead glass powder, ground separately in rainwater on a copper plate. Thereafter it instructed that the ingredients were to be mixed together and ground again with ‘sclechten wasser’ (bad water –urine?) for three hours before a tiny amount of gum Arabic was dissolved into the mixture. The paint was ready to use after the mixture had been left to stand a night and a day in a covered dish (p. 252).

More recipes are cited for yellow silver stain which was used extensively for the decoration in roundels during the sixteenth century. Opaque and transparent sanguine is charted as appearing from the second half of the fifteenth century and thereafter used extensively for flesh tinting from the first quarter of the sixteenth century (pp. 254–55). 

Diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove by Hans Memling showing enamel painted roundels in the windows behind the main figures

Fig. 3. Diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove by Hans Memling showing enamel painted roundels in the windows behind the main figures

The discussion about the introduction of enamel paints is sharpened by the author’s discovery of the depiction of blue enamel paint in several roundels reproduced in a painting by the Bruges-based artist, Hans Memling in 1487. The scene appears in the diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove , now in the Memling Museum in Bruges. [Fig. 3]  

Prior to this discovery, the earliest documented evidence of the use of enamels in glass painting was a document from 1500–1525, now in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp (pp. 255–258). It is possible that Aert Ortkens (c. 1475 – after 1538), one of the most accomplished glass painters of the period was using enamels during the first half of the sixteenth century. A guild ordinance from Ghent dated 1541 permitted the use of enamels for the depiction of heraldic arms in smaller panels. Laboratory analyses of enamel paints used in the seventeenth century show that blue was derived from cobalt oxide, green from copper oxide and purple from manganese oxide.

Glass painting techniques

Various ordinances and manuscripts are quoted as commending neatness and explaining how washes should be used gently. An interesting section about inscriptions finds examples of some lettering resting on ruled lines (p. 267). Further subsections discuss shading, the application of silver stain, working with enamels, painting in layers, abrading and etching, backpainting and working with cold paints. Good examples are shown of premade panels produced with blank spaces where dates, inscriptions or coats of arms could be added to a customer’s specification after purchase ( pp. 277–278).

Kilns, leading up and tools

The fifth chapter in this section discusses kilns and firing, while chapter six looks at lead, leading-up and soldering. Repeated concerns about the quality of lead are noted with the Antwerp guild imposing fines if lead was too light or had been rolled with a lead mill rather than cast (p. 296). Despite attempts to obstruct the introduction of lead mills, their use spread. The penultimate chapter (seven) in this long section consists of illustrations of some of the tools and equipment used by glass painters. These include a series of charming decorated initial letters in a manuscript belonging to the St Luke Guild in Antwerp which depict such tools as a soldering iron, a grozing iron, a diamond glass cutter (?) and painting brushes. A lead mill of 1654 bought by the church wardens of St John’s church, Gouda, is also shown. The final chapter discusses cementing, reinforcement and placing

Part Five: ‘The Rise and Fall of the Art of Stained Glass’

This section begins optimistically with examples of repair and conservation from the fifteenth century onwards, as when the glass painter, Berthelmy van der Lynde, was employed to repair a window in the palace of Flanders in Ghent in 1485 or 1486 after the glass had been damaged during a storm.

Records of the church of St Gommaire in Lier list many similar interventions with Walraven the glazier paid for repairing broken panes in 1475, 1480 and 1482 (p. 319). Protective iron frames with copper screens had been installed at the cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp by 1503 (p. 318). But nothing could protect most church windows during the sixteenth-century religious wars or the ravages inflicted by the French Revolution.

Even when stained glass windows did survive, changing fashions meant that they were often not appreciated. The Counter-Reformation saw Catholics embrace baroque style decorative fittings. Huge altarpieces in black and white marble proliferated. Admirers of the new disdained the old, grumbling that the richly coloured stained glass windows kept out too much daylight. In 1626 the Chapter of Antwerp Cathedral ordered the removal of a medieval window donated by the van Berchem family in 1391 because they wanted their new altarpiece by the artist Peter Paul Rubens to be better seen (pp. 326–27). Elsewhere, a window painted by Johannes van Scoenenbergh in 1446 at the church of Werchter removed in 1656 and the opening bricked up when a new altar was built while at St Lawrence’s church in Lokeren, curtains were hung in front of the choir windows in 1683 so as to protect the altar and improve the view (p. 327). The nineteenth century saw a different threat as churches were over-restored.

From flourishing trade to clearance sale

The author discusses the production of enormous quantities of roundels mainly intended for domestic interiors and only rarely installed in churches – an exception to the latter being a sixteenth-century scheme at the church of St Genevieve in Steenhuffel (Province of Flanders, Brabant) where roundels were arranged in a choir window (p. 331).

By 1750, however, the impact of destructive wars, shifting economic fortunes and changes in circumstance and fashion, saw the industry decline to the extent that the craft was on the verge of dying out. As traditional skills were lost, glaziers often used oil paintings on glass during repairs and restoration campaigns.

Fortunately many of the displaced panels were bought by collectors, especially from England, and the author introduces new readers to the activities of John Christopher Hampp and Seth William Stevenson who profited from the sale of early glass to the UK in the early years of the nineteenth century.

The final chapter summarises the main findings and makes a plea for a more integrated approach to the conservation of early stained glass with specialists from different fields working together from the outset and at the same time.

Appendices of guild ordinances/letters etc and recipes are followed by an extensive bibliography.

My general views about the book? The thematic structure produces repetition and some confusion, especially when the author cites examples two hundred years apart in succeeding paragraphs. Far worse, however, is the lack of an index. Readers should make their own as they turn the pages.

Putting such minor criticisms aside, as an entity this book represents a pioneering and valuable study of stained glass history from a scientific/technical viewpoint. It reveals new discoveries and reminds readers of the economic and industrial dynamics of producing works of art, especially for mass markets. The author deserves additional credit for publishing most of the book in English; the historical/recipe appendices are in Dutch. Together with exceptionally high production values and superb imagery, the result is a volume that has much to offer both art historians and conservators.

Roger Rosewell

The Glass Demon


The Glass Demon.

Fig. 1. The Glass Demon.

The Glass Demon, by Helen Grant, Puffin books, p/b, 416 pages, 2010, £6.99.  

Demons from the Steinfeld Abbey glass.

Fig. 2. Demons from the Steinfeld Abbey glass.

This is an ideal present for Vidimus readers to give 12+ older teenagers who like spooky thrillers. The novel centres around the search for the imaginary lost stained glass of Allerheiligen abbey in the Eiffel region of Germany, an idea inspired, as the author acknowledges, by the true story of the disappearance and continuing discovery of the Steinfeld Abbey glass (see Further Reading below).

The novel is narrated by Lin, the seventeen year old daughter of a medieval art historian who has devoted his life to finding this lost treasure, supposedly the work of Gerhard Remisch, the master responsible for the Steinfeld windows. Relocating his family to Germany in pursuit of the glass, the investigation is rocked by a series of suspicious deaths linked to the legend of a demon, Bonschariant, who is said to live within the glass. As Lin delves deeper, dangers multiply…….!

Further reading

A special feature on the Steinfeld glazing appeared in Vidimus35, December 2009.

Name that Roundel! Solution

The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper.

Fig. 1. The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper.

This month’s panel shows a scene from the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. The story can be found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verses: 25–37.

In this parable Jesus throws back a question about how someone can inherit eternal life by asking ‘What is written in [Moses’] law? How readest thou?’

When the questioner then follows up his answer, ‘Love the Lord thy God….and thy neighbour as thyself’, with the supplementary – ‘And who is my neighbour?’, Jesus tells the story of a Jewish traveller who is going from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is set upon by robbers who beat him, strip him of his clothes and leave him half dead along the road. Despite his injuries, his plight is ignored by first a priest and then a Levite who both pass by without coming to the man’s assistance. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan is moved with compassion to help the injured Jew, soothing his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaging them. Then he puts the man on his own donkey and takes him to an inn where, after caring for him again, he gives the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee’.  

The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper, Sens Cathedral, c.1207–1215.

Fig. 2. The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper, Sens Cathedral, c.1207–1215.

Having finished the story Jesus then asked ‘Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?’ And [the man] he said ‘He that showed mercy on him’. Then, said Jesus unto him ‘Go, and do thou likewise’.

Early Christian writers from the second and third century onwards, such as Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c. AD 337–397), allegorised this and other parables. They saw the man going to Jericho as symbolising Adam and all humanity; the robbers as the devils who prey on humankind; the Good Samaritan as Jesus Christ, the savour of humanity; the innkeeper as preacher; the Inn as the church; and the oil and wine used to heal the man as representing the gospel and the grace of the church.

These ideas can be seen in thirteenth-century window schemes at the French cathedrals of Bourges, Chartres, and Sens. At Chartres, for example, a window shows the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden at the top of the scheme and the parable of the Good Samaritan at the bottom. 

The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper, by Wouter Pietersz Crabeth II. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Fig. 3. The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper, by Wouter Pietersz Crabeth II. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The Reformation saw Protestants attack the allegorising of parables and insist that their meaning be interpreted literally as written in the Bible. The Swiss-based French reformer, John Calvin (1509–1564), spoke for many when demanded that the church ‘ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning’. For such preachers the parable had a straightforward theme – ‘compassion, which an enemy showed to a Jew, demonstrates that the guidance and teaching of nature are sufficient to show that man was created for the sake of man. Hence it is inferred that there is a mutual obligation between all men.’

The image of the Good Samaritan as depicted in our roundel was intended to promote the virtues of mercy and charity in the viewer.

The CVMA (GB) author William Cole (1909–1997) ascribed the design of our roundel to a print, possibly by the Dutch artist Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert (1522–1590) after a drawing by Martin Heemskerck (1498–1574), No. 4 of a series of four on the story of the Good Samaritan, see: W. Cole, A Catalogue of Netherlandish and North European Roundels in Britain, CVMA (GB), Summary Catalogue 1, Oxford, 1993, page 69

Our roundel can be compared to a pen and brown ink drawing of the same scene made c. 1626–1630 by the Dutch glass painter, Wouter Pietersz Crabeth II, of Gouda (1594–1644), now in the collections of the British Museum.

For more information about this drawing see:

  • Z. van Ruyven-Zeman, ‘Some Drawings attributed to Wouter Crabeth, the glass painter from Gouda’, in Master Drawings 23–24 (1985–1986), pp. 554–551 (for Crabeth II, see note 6).

Xander van Eck, ‘Three Drawings attributed to Wouter Pietersz Crabeth II’, in The Burlington Magazine 152 (2010), pp. 90–93



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