Actes du premier colloque international de l'association Verre et Histoire, Paris-La Défense / Versailles, 13-15 octobre 2005

Prof. J. CAEN
Hogeschool Antwerpen (AUHA), Conservation Studies, Antwerp (Belgium)

Prof. Dr. B. DE MUNCK
University of Antwerp (AUHA), History Department, Antwerp (Belgium)

University of Antwerp (AUHA), History Department, Antwerp (Belgium)

Technical Prescriptions and Regulations for Craftsmen in the Southern Netherlands during the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
A Confrontation of Archival and Material-Technical Information regarding Glazing and Stained-Glass Windows.

Pour la première fois, cet article confronte systématiquement les prescriptions techniques et règles des guildes à une recherche scientifique sur le matériel et les caractéristiques techniques des artefacts produits par les vitriers. De cette confrontation il ressort que les artisans se sont adaptés avec souplesse aux habitudes de consommation, mais aussi que les guildes se sont plus souciées de garantir la qualité et la durabilité des produits que de protéger leur métier de techniques remettant en cause leur savoir-faire.

For the first time, this article systematically confronts technical prescriptions and legislation concerning arts and crafts with scientific research on the material and technical characteristics of artefacts made by artisans (glaziers). The outcome of this confrontation has learned, first, that artisans adapted flexibly to changing consumer patterns, and secondly, that craft guilds were not so much concerned with safeguarding their trade against new labour-threatening technologies as with guaranteeing the quality and durability of their products.

Historical research into crafts and guilds is all too often restricted to the confines of archival institutions. Rarely are research findings compared with preserved artefacts. The present research project strives to take a first step towards filling this void by taking a combined approach, involving the history of crafts and guilds on the one hand and material-technical research into the methods applied by craftsmen on the other. More in particular, we shall focus on the glaziers’ and/or the stained-glass crafts.

The confrontation of material-technical aspects of (stained) glass and rules and regulations issued by the guild is relevant to both the history of consumerism and material culture and to the history of the crafts and their attitude towards technological innovation on the other.

As far as material culture is concerned, long gone are the days that only the art-historical value of archaeological and historical objects was considered important. The fact that everyday artefacts also have a historical and socio-cultural significance follows from a perfectly datable historical evolution. By studying the glazing of homes and glass produced by anonymous craftsmen, one can gain insight into a development whereby prestigious luxury products gradually had to make way for cheap, fashion-sensitive and mass-produced items1. This transition, which unfolded between 1500 and 1800, coincided with a changing attitude on the part of the guilds and craftsmen towards established and innovative techniques. From the perspective of this ‘consumption revolution’, the strategies of the numerous anonymous glassmakers and their corporatist institutions may well be more relevant than the household names in the history of art.

The notion that guilds and crafts were obsolete institutions that stood in the way of technological and economic progress has been disproved in recent decades. Increasingly, they are understood to have been dynamic organisations that were able to adapt flexibly to changing social and economic circumstances2. Regulations and restrictions relating to the work process and product quality should be interpreted in that context. Therefore, the crucial question is invariably why a particular rule or regulation was introduced. Research into the economic role of crafts has demonstrated, for example, that scrupulous quality control was a rational and effective measure in the light of competition between urban and rural producers. Rural workshops tended to offer very competitive prices, so that their urban counterparts tried to safeguard their own market position by providing superior quality.3 This focus on quality coincided with a well-considered attitude towards new technologies and product innovation. In other words, the position that the crafts and guilds adopted vis-à-vis quality, new techniques and innovation depended largely on the economic context in which they operated.

The present project specifically aims to confront normative sources from guild archives, such as guilds’ regulations concerning the material-technical aspects of the work process, with surviving artefacts. In this manner, we are able to ascertain which techniques were applied and how they evolved, and we can put forward a number of suggestions with regard to possible discrepancies between the prescribed standards and practice. Moreover, we also acquire better insight into the motives of the guilds to impose and guard over specific quality standards and to ban certain techniques. In the past, restrictions on the use of particular techniques were readily interpreted in terms of a labour-market logic and a social concern with preventing labour-destructive technology from taking a hold. However, it would now appear that the guilds acted for entirely different reasons, and that their preoccupation with quality was first and foremost economically relevant4. The findings of the present research are therefore not only extremely useful for accurately identifying and interpreting historical glass, but they also provide insight into the functioning of the stained-glass artists’ and glaziers’ guilds and the production of stained-glass windows.

In order to make this confrontation possible, an overview was required of the available written source material relating to the crafts of stained-glass window making and glazing. We therefore set out to draw up an inventory for a number of Flemish towns, focusing exclusively on guild rules and directives laying down material-technical requirements. Regulations relating merely to the organisational aspects of the craft or guild are beyond the scope of the present study. All guild regulations that were found to be relevant to the research were digitally photographed and subsequently transcribed and translated. The study encompasses the towns of Antwerp, Aalst, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Lier and Mechelen.

The stained-glass artists’ and glaziers’ crafts were not organised in the same way in each of these places. Depending on their numbers, they either constituted a separate professional group (‘natie’) within the St Luke’s Guild5, in which various arts and crafts were united (painters, embroiderers, woodcutters, …), or they were subsumed under a larger craft (e.g. smiths, masons, carpenters, …)6.

Our method and approach offer only a fragmentary and provisory view of the corporative strategies. Nevertheless, we managed to surface a number of interesting trends. After considering the master piece that candidate masters had to pass, we'll discuss the different techniques a glazier needed to be fluent in.

  • 1.  McKendrick N., Brewer J. and Plumb J.H. (eds.), 1982, The Birth of a Consumer Society. The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London); J. Brewer and R. Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods, London/New York 1993; Bermingham A. and Brewer J. (eds.), 1995, The Consumption of Culture, 1600-1800. Image, Object, Text, London/New York; Fox R. and Turner A. (eds.), 1998, Luxury Trades and Consumerism in Ancien Régime Paris. Studies in the History of the Skilled Workforce, Aldershot; Blondé B., 2001, ‘De plus nouveau et de plus galant. Mode en consumptieveranderingen te Antwerpen in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw, in: Provinciale Commissie voor Geschiedenis en Volkskunde 12, p. 227-229; B. Blondé and I. Van Damme, ‘Consumenten en commerciële circuits. Verbruiksveranderingen en hun betekenis voor de detailhandel te Antwerpen in de 17de en 18de eeuw: een terreinverkenning’, in: De Peuter R. and Steegen E. (eds.), ‘Mag het iets meer zijn?’ Detailhandel en distributie van consumptieartikelen in de Nederlanden, 1450-1850 (in print); I. Van Damme, ‘Reacting to changing consumer preferences: selling old and new consumer durables in Antwerp (c. 1648-c. 1748)’, in: Blondé B., Stabel P., Van Damme I. and Welch E. (eds.), Le parfait négociant: Buyers, Sellers and Salesmanship in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Italy, The Low Countries and England) (in print).  ↑
  • 2.  For an recent overview with extensive references, see Farr J.R., 2000, Artisans in Europe, 1300-1914, Cambridge; also Lis C., Lucassen J., Prak M. and Soly H. (eds.), Guilds in the Early Modern Low Countries. Work, Power and Representation, (in print).  ↑
  • 3.  Gustaffson B., 1999, ‘The Rise and Economic Behaviour of Medieval Craft Guilds’, in: Gustaffson B. (ed.), Power and Economic Institutions. Reinterpretations in Economic History, Aldershot, p. 69-106.  ↑
  • 4.  Reith R., 2000, ‘Technische Innovationen im Handwerk der frühen Neuzeit? Traditionen, Probleme und Perspektiven der Forschung’, in: K.H. Kaufhold and W. Reininghaus (eds.), Stadt und Handwerk in Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit, Cologne, p. 21–60.  ↑
  • 5.  Which was the case in cities as Aalst, Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent and Lier.  ↑
  • 6.  Which was the case in Malines; in this city glaziers were part of the masons' guild.  ↑