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)
Dra. V. DE LAET, 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.

The Master Piece

Guilds were organisations of craftsmen possessing a city-wide monopoly on the production of certain commodities. However, they invariably had to contend with competitors in other locations, often out in the countryside. Either the competing products were imported into the city or they were sold on the same regional or international markets as the items produced by the urban craftsmen. As producers in large towns usually faced higher costs (wages, taxes, housing, etc.) than rural producers or producers in smaller towns, they were unable to compete through pricing and often chose to provide better quality goods instead7. This preoccupation with product quality explains not only why norms and standards were prescribed, but also the system of apprenticeships and a master’s test.

In many cases, a compulsory apprenticeship had already been prescribed by the late Middle Ages, but the earliest references to a master’s test usually date back to the late 15th century. Generally speaking, they were introduced during what historians refer to as the “long sixteenth century”. Precisely why they were introduced is still open to study, but it would appear that initially efforts were made to adapt the skills acquired during the apprenticeship period to the product market. In the case of Antwerp’s guild of cabinetmakers, for example, a test was introduced in 1497 that encompassed the production of three pieces of furniture, i.e. two different cabinets and a table, adapted to the rather broad standardisation that existed within the sector at that time8. As far as the table was concerned, the dean of the guild could choose between a circular-shaped ‘disch’ and a square table9, while the shape of the cabinet was strictly prescribed. This choice probably depended on the workshop where the apprentice had learnt the craft and the pieces that were generally produced there.

The oldest documents (Ghent, 1600)10 found in the sector under study would appear to suggest that matters were similar in the stained-glass and glaziers’ crafts. Three possible master’s tests could be imposed: ‘the production of a glass lantern’ or an ‘oval roundel with helm, coat of arms, and mantling’ (see fig. 1) or a stained-glass panel with a diced leading pattern (‘eenen teerlinck pandt’) (see fig. 2). These three tests would appear to coincide with three distinct disciplines within the craft, namely lantern making, stained-glass making, and glazing.

Picture: Oval roundel with helm, coat of arms and mantling

Fig. 1: Oval roundel with helm, coat of arms and mantling. Early 17th century, private collection.

Engraving: Félibien, Des principes de l’architecture

Fig. 2a: Félibien, Des principes de l’architecture…, Paris, 1699.

Engraving: Félibien, Des principes de l’architecture, Diced loading pattern

Fig. 2b: Diced loading pattern, Félibien, Des principes de l’architecture…, p. 199.

There are indications that, at a later stage, the direct relationship between the test and the product market was lost. In the case of the aforementioned carpenters, for example, just one cabinet would eventually be prescribed, and for ebony cutters, who were added to the carpenters’ guild in 1621, the test consisted exclusively in the making of a ‘crucifix’11. It would thus appear that, as a result of the increasing complexity of the items made and the growing degree of specialisation within and among workshops, only the basic skills were now tested. In the case of the stained-glass artists and glaziers, we observe that the master’s test gradually evolved towards a standardised test in which glass cutting and leading were of central importance.

Drawing: pattern sheet with St Luke’s Guild armorial

Fig. 3: Early 18th century pattern sheet with St Luke’s Guild armorial, Bruges, Steinmetzkabinet, inv. no. 0.3110-f°68.

Drawing: pattern sheet with composition with angle bars

Fig. 4: Early 18th century pattern sheet with composition with ‘angle bars’, Bruges, Steinmetzkabinet, inv. no. 0.3110-f°60.

In a text from Lier (1619-1620)12, we read that the local master’s test was based on the same criteria as those applied in Antwerp. However, the earliest details about the Master’s test in Antwerp are found in a text dating from 166013. It involved a lead pattern with ‘six right angles’ and a piece of blue ‘holed’ (‘gegaet’) glass. Presumably, the composition represented the coat of arms of the St Luke’s Guild, as this was also the assignment in Aalst in 170014. Moreover, it is commonly found on the early 18th century pattern sheets for lead compositions in two pattern books that are preserved at the Steinmetz Cabinet in Bruges15 (see fig.3). Many models involve compositions with ‘angle bars’ (see fig. 4).

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