Biblical scenes: The Capture of the Ark of the Covenant

Biblical scenes: The Capture of the Ark of the Covenant

Dirck Crabeth (known c. 1520-1574) and his workshop Leiden (Holland), 1543
Grisaille, silver stain, glass, lead
Inscription on the stained glass: 1543
109.5 x 64.8 cm
Bequest of Andrée Sablé, from the collection of her father, Georges Néret, 1979
Inv. 46517 B
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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These stained glass panels, desgned for a secular setting, were donated to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs by the daughter of the master glassmaker Georges Néret. They are among the few surviving examples of the casement windows that predated modern windows. Two sets of drawings, executed in 1846 by the painter Gerardus Johannes Bos, show these panels (dated to 1543) installed in the entrance hall of the former academy of painting and drawing (Pax Huic Domui) in Leiden, before they were taken down and dispersed among the most prestigious medieval art collections of the nineteenth century – those of Prince Soltykoff and Baron Seillière. On the transom piece, inserted coats of arms are placed above subjects inspired by religious art. The complete work is contained within an architecural frame, with a triangular pediment at the top and archways below in the opening part of the frame (some carved wooden elements of which are held in the Museum de Lakenhal in Leiden). To appreciate the subtle illusionism of the structure, the four window panels need to be seen together, when the various acanthus friezes, putti, vases and knights in combat create a horizontal rhythm. The decorative vocabulary was inspired by the Italian designs that had spread to the northern countries since the early sixteenth century. Eight of the twelve known illustrated scenes have come down to us. They are painted on rectangular panels (similar to roundels) which were almost industrially produced. The exterior face of the grisaille-painted glass is colored with silver stain, a blend of silver nitrate and ocher. The upper parts of the panels show the story of Samuel (The Presentation in the Temple, The Capture of the Ark of the Covenant, The Banquet and the Anointing); running parallel below are the Acts of the Apostles (the Apostle Paul before the Magistrates at Philippi, The Blinding of Elymas, The Preaching of Paul, the Introduction of Paul to the Apostles by Barnabas). The choice of images suggests that the work reflects something of the ideas of the pre-Reformation period in Holland. A drawing by Dirck Crabeth (Leiden, Cabinet of Drawings) served as a model for the panel depicting the Capture of the Ark of the Covenant. The bars? lead strips? and arms around the central figure, which accentuate the violence of the scene, recall the Quattrocento, while the figures, whose anatomy is emphasized by wet drapery, suggest that the painter-glazier borrowed from Romanist sources, disseminated through engravings by artists of the School of Fontainebleau. The grisaille, painted with precise lines, is enhanced with wash to shape the faces. The detailing of the hair and beards, etched out with a needle, recalls the work of miniaturists. Colorless glass was particularly important in stained glass for civic buildings. These panels testify to the remarkable work of the artist Dirck Crabeth, mentioned for his production of the stained glass windows in the church of St. John in Gouda in 1540.

C. B. Chantal Bouchon, “Les panneaux de Leyde de 1543”, Dossier de la Commission royale des monuments, sites et fouilles, no.3, 1996, pp. 123-129.

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