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13.06.08, van Ruyven-Zeman, et al, eds., The Cartoons of the Sint-Janskerk in Gouda

13.06.08, van Ruyven-Zeman, et al, eds., The Cartoons of the Sint-Janskerk in Gouda

The Sint-Janskerk in Gouda, rebuilt after a 1552 fire, preserves an almost complete set of stained glass, most of it produced between 1551 and 1604 in the local shops of Dirck Crabeth and his brother Wouter. Even more rare, the church has retained nearly all the cartoons--working drawings, made to scale--produced for the design and fabrication of these windows. Many bays are over 10 m. high, others close to 20 m. It is an enormous collection, unique in the world.

The Gouda windows were published between 1997-2002 in three volumes of the Corpus Vitrearum. They are also conveniently accessible to readers in the catalog by Zsuzsanna van Ruyven-Zeman. [1] The bilingual volume here under review completes this labor with a catalog of the cartoons accompanied by essays of art historians and paper conservators. Included in the catalog of window cartoons are discussions of the vidimuses that have been identified for these bays. A vidimus (Latin: we have seen) is a small drawing, here about 1:15 in scale, made as a contract drawing for the patron. Thus the literature on the Gouda windows is now about as complete as it could be. Following introductory articles on the artists (18-31) and iconography (32-45), the cartoons are catalogued in three groups: Pre-Reformation, to 1572 (48-147), Post-Reformation, after 1572 (148-179), and three bays of the Twentieth-Century (180-199). Then follows a series of studies on cartoons ranging from their general usage in art production to specific and detailed data by the specialists who have recently accomplished the immense task of conservation of the Gouda collection. The volume is completed by a study of the watermarks on the paper (274-281), a detailed catalog of technical data on each cartoon (282-309), lists of them by artist (310-311) and by date (312-313), a glossary (315) and bibliography (316-319). The task of modern conservation of these paper treasures, recently completed, has been a massive civic enterprise and this volume celebrates that achievement.

For medievalists, the most interesting designs are those before the church became Protestant in 1572. No cartoons exist for the six apostle windows of ca. 1530-1550 surviving the 1552 fire, which are among the oldest Netherlandish stained glass now preserved. Fragmentary drawings, however, exist for some lost windows dated ca. 1515-1525. In addition to the windows made for the new church by the renowned Dirck Crabeth (d. 1574) and his brother, several pre-Reformation cartoons are by artists of Antwerp, Utrecht and Haarlem. The figure designs of Crabeth, who was a superb draughtsman, are typically elongated, with pointed fingers, and heads lined up at the same level (isocephaly). All the cartoons are almost completely colorless but for a few touches of red; only heraldry was occasionally provided with full color. These pre-Reformation windows predictably illustrate scenes from the Old Testament, the lives of Christ and the Baptist, and in one case a name saint. Their donors, high-ranking officials of church and state, included Philip II of Spain and William of Orange.

Of general interest is the information on watermarks. Before 1586, paper was not made in the northern Netherlands but imported through Antwerp, usually from the Vosges. Early hand-made rag paper was of small scale; even the large-format broadsheets used for most of these huge window drawings measured about 44 x 57 cm. Numerous sheets therefore had to be glued in series to compose a bay design. Photographs of all the watermarks on these many sheets are provided, accompanied by full bibliographical data (275-281).

The essay by Arjan R. De Koomen, "Cartoons in Art History" (202-219), discusses cartoons for monumental art--fresco and panel painting, tapestry, and windows--from the late Middle Ages to about 1600. Literature on this topic is meager. Medieval cartoons were also made on parchment, linen, and wood; in 1493/4, Hieronymous Bosch drew designs for stained glass on bedsheets. Few medieval cartoons survive and those chiefly for tapestries and Italian painting. The techniques for the various media differed. Cartoons for paintings were transferred by pouncing, that is, holes pricked along the contours of the design with a thick needle, then charcoal applied to the perforations. While the oldest to survive are for Raphael's "School of Athens," the tell-tale charcoal dots can be found on some trecento Italian frescoes. Only in the mid-15th century, however, is there evidence of pouncing for the design of human figures. In northern art, Robert Campin made cartoons for a painting cycle in Tournai in 1438 and several cartoons by Holbein (d. 1543) survive.

Tapestry cartoons are quite different. Documents mention late medieval examples, including one on linen in Arras in 1441, but the earliest to survive are a few of the 16th century. They were cut into strips no wider than a weaver's arms, since several men worked side by side. The weavers worked from the back of the tapestry and could see, through the threads, the cartoon placed at the front. These were fully detailed and colored in gouache (opaque watercolor), which is slightly absorbed by the paper. Letters of 1462 between Tommaso Portinari in Bruges and his Medici boss warn that tempera paint previously used by Italian artists had tended to flake off. A Brussels edict of 1476 gave painters a monopoly on the production of narrative cartoons; weavers might design only plants, animals, and fabric (i.e., landscape and costume).

Stained glass cartoons differ from those employed for painting and tapestry in a number of significant ways. It is likely that the earliest usage of cartoons was for windows. Medieval glass was always designed at full scale, initially on wooden tables as described in the famous 12th-century treatise by Theophilus, De diversis artibus. The table would be "erased" and reused. In recent times such a table has been identified at Gerona Cathedral, with evidence of at least seven designs made on it. Fragments of another example have been found at Brandenburg. The Libro dell'arte of Ceninno Ceninni of ca. 1400 first mentions paper cartoons for windows, but not as yet for painting; Vasari mentions both. But only fragments survive before the immense treasure-house of Gouda.

But the Gouda cartoons present mysteries. Mostly in charcoal or black chalk, they are not only colorless but include only rare notations for color. In contrast, a large cartoon of 1541 designed by Barend van Orley for a lost window in St Bavo's, Haarlem, is in pen and ink with washes of color. The Gouda cartoons also lack any indication of the lead lines so essential to a stained glass window, although the framing T-bars are indicated in red chalk. A final mystery is how the glass was actually cut and painted using these cartoons. According to Theophilus, this was initially done with the glass placed directly over the cartoon. Yet the Gouda examples contain no indication of the likely collateral damages that would certainly ensue.

While various solutions are proposed here, there are no obvious solutions. We now have the extraordinary set of Gouda stained glass fully described in three volumes of the Corpus Vitrearum, and this present book documenting in fine detail their unique cartoons. And yet we may not have heard the last word on the mysteries of Gouda.



1. Zsuzsanna van Ruyven-Zeman, Stained Glass in The Netherlands before 1795, Part II: The South (CV The Netherlands IV; Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011), 507-547.