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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dirck Pietesrz Crabeth

Jonah and the Whale, 1565, Dirck and Wouter Crabeth

The Last Supper, 1557,
Dirck and Wouter Crabeth
In traveling about and visiting various architectural structures having to do with worship, we very often encounter grand and glorious windows, which not only admit light into the sanctuary but also tell some biblical story. We refer to them as stained glass windows, yet quite often these magnficent works of the glazier's art are not, in fact, stained glass but painted glass. The difference is obvious in the terms themselves, but just for the record, stained glass has the coloring agents (usually some mineral additive) inherent in the glass itself. Painted glass has the coloration, in fact, usually an image, added by an artist once the glass is fabricated. Paints may be oil, water, vinegar, or silver nitrate based. The glass is then fired in a kiln to fuse the paint to the surface. This is a tricky process in that the pigments tend to change color during firing. Very often, previously stained glass is painted, allowing a combination of the two media, thus keeping our habitual descriptions at least somewhat accurate.

Dirck Pietersrz Crabeth,
possibly a self-portrait.
The primary difference between stained glass and a painting is light. Paintings utilize reflected light while  stained glass uses refracted light passing through the work of art itself. In Holland, in the 16th century. when all forms of painting "flowered," along side the tulips, none did so more beautifully than that of painted glass. And no artist contributed more to this art than did Dirck Pietesrz Crabeth and his brother, Wouter Crabeth I of Gouda (yes, the same city as the cheese). It may be oversimplifying somewhat to say Dirck handled the paint while Wouter handled the glass, though archival evidence would tend to support such an observation. Dirck was born in 1501, his brother in 1510. Their family had been in the glass business since the glass business began in that country.
Judith and her Maid with the Head
of Holofernes (detail), 1571,
Dirck and Wouter Crabeth
Dirck Crabeth seems to have been influenced by the Dutch painter, Jan van Scorel, though most of his talents seem to have come naturally or through a father-son apprenticeship. His preliminary drawings and cartoons (full-size patterns on paper) indicate the was a more than adequate draftsman capable of readily handling figures, faces, and interiors as the scenes demanded (below). The scenes were, of course, entirely of a religious nature, his work being exclusively that of church windows. His first major work came in the years between 1552 and 1571. He was commissioned to replace windows destroyed by fire in the local Janskerk. Inasmuch as the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the first panes depicted the patron saint. Later images were those of Jesus and the Money Changers, The Last Supper (above, left), Jonah and the Whale (top), and strangely, Judith with the Head of Holofernes (left). Naturally, down in one corner, there is a praying image of the guy who paid for it all, George van Egman (below, left).
Preliminary design drawing, Annunciation, Dirck Crabeth
George van Egman (donor),
1555, Dirk Craabeth
The story of the Crabeth brothers' Janskerk windows after they were installed is as interesting as the windows themselves. It remains a mystery as to why these windows survived the iconoclastic Beeldenstorm (image storm) around 1566 when Calvinist mobs destroyed the inteior decoration of many Dutch Catholic churches (as well as those in other European countries). The Protestant Reformation seems to have had little effect upon the work of the Crabeth brothers as they apparently labored straight through this period in installing their windows. Even with the Janskerk convent was torn down in 1580, the windows were moved to the church itself. Apparently, the Protestants admired their efforts as much as had the Catholics.

A monument to the Crabeth brothers, by Jo Uiterwaal, located behind the church.

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