The Mappae Clavicula is a 12th-century Latin manuscript that presents more than 200 recipes for making various substances used in the decorative arts. In these formulas, ingredients found in the natural world are precisely combined to produce various colors and metallic elements such as gold, silver, and copper for painting, writing, and ornamentation. This union of aesthetics and artisanship offers a panoramic view of the inventive spirit that infused the stunning artistry of the Middle Ages.
Although the Mappae Clavicula was studied by medieval historians, our understanding of the text and its background was considerably enhanced by the scholarship of Cyril Stanley Smith and John G. Hawthorne, whose translation and commentaries were published in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1974. Translating a medieval manuscript can be much like solving a puzzle. The title of the Mappae Clavicula was a basic piece of the puzzle for Smith and Hawthorne, who settled on A Little Key to the World of Medieval Techniques as the most meaningful interpretation. In their introduction, they described the Mappae Clavicula as a “compilation of compilations,” and they stated that the specific manuscript owned by the Rakow Library “stands at the very apex of the traditional compilation of recipes of chemical technology….”
Some of these many recipes involve glass. For example, recipe number 69 in the Smith and Hawthorne translation is for “Giving to Glass the Nature of a Stronger %%Metal%%” and uses a mixture of egg whites and mistletoe juice to accomplish this. Other recipes for various colored glasses call for “cooking” the glass mixture from two to six days.
The Mappae Clavicula is valuable not only for its historical content, but also as an artifact of medieval material culture. The manuscript was probably copied from more than one original source, possibly by more than one scribe, in the cloistered setting of the monastic scriptorium. Since copying by hand was the only way in which a book could be reproduced before the introduction of printing, each manuscript was a unique object. In various sections of the Mappae Clavicula, the size of the writing and the style of the Gothic lettering are different, allowing for speculation that two scribes may have collaborated in its production. In the absence of illustrations, chapter headings and initials in red and green provide relief from the monotony of the sepia ink and help to organize content. For the scribe, the tedium of copying was relaxed by the small measure of artistic freedom he could exercise in designing the initials. Thus some of these letters seem to have sprouted tails (and at times another design within the tail), while others imitate architectural elements such as fluted columns and delicate crowns. This interplay of curvilinear and elongated strokes appeared to be a favorite expression of the scribe’s own fancy which, at the same time, was clearly meant to delight the reader.
A modern machine can produce over one hundred thousand glass vessels a day. What has been the effect of mass markets and mass production on design and decoration of table glass? An American company recently introduced a line designed by a Scandinavian. An exhibition of modern Japanese glass revealed a profound knowledge of Venetian decorative techniques. . . . What has been the effect of this international circulation of traditions and ideas on designers and manufacturers of table glass?
Thomas S. Buechner, Glass 1959: A Special Exhibition of International Contemporary Glass, p. 6.
Important artists and designers whose work appeared in Glass 1959 included Ercole Barovier (Italy), Václav Cigler (Czechoslovakia), Andries Copier (the Netherlands), Kaj Franck (Finland), Oswald Haerdtl (Austria), Willem Heesen (the Netherlands), Pavel Hlava (Czechoslovakia), Erik Höglund (Sweden), Arne Jon Jutrem (Norway), Marc Lalique (France), Vicke Lindstrand (Sweden), Heinz Löffelhardt (Germany), Ingeborg Lundin (Sweden), Per Lütken (Denmark), Dino Martens (Italy), Floris Meydam (the Netherlands), Edvin Öhrstrom (Sweden), Nora Ortleib (Germany), Sven Palmqvist (Sweden), Flavio Poli (Italy), René Roubíček (Czechoslovakia), George Sakier (United States), Timo Sarpaneva (Finland), Paolo Venini (Italy), Wilhelm Wagenfeld (Germany), and Tapio Wirkkala (Finland).
The first major survey of international contemporary glass design after World War II, Glass 1959: A Special Exhibition of International Contemporary Glass created a “snapshot” of glass design at a specific moment in time. The decade of the 1950s was a key period in terms of the growing popular interest in design. World’s fairs and other international expositions promoted design in tandem with the fine arts, and European design began to have a significant and lasting impact on American culture.
A limited amount of studio glass was included in Glass 1959, with unique vessels and sculpture by John Burton (United States), Edris Eckhardt (United States), Maurice Heaton (United States), Frances and Michael Higgins (United States), John Hutton (United Kingdom), John Lees (Canada), Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová (Czechoslovakia), Lucrecia Moyano de Muñiz (Argentina), and Albin Schaedel (Germany).
Glass 1959 was organized by Thomas S. Buechner, director of The Corning Museum of Glass. He worked with an invited jury, which included Leslie Cheek Jr., director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Edgar Kaufmann Jr., director of the “Good Design Project” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Russell Lynes, art historian and managing editor of Harper’s Magazine; George Nakashima, furniture maker; and Gio Ponti, the Italian architect and designer.
Glass 1959 opened at The Corning Museum of Glass in 1959. It subsequently traveled to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1959–1960); The Toledo Museum of Art (1960); The Art Institute of Chicago (1960); and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (1960).
This exhibition is about a profound change that is taking place in the history of glass: after thirty-five centuries of utilitarian use—from containers and window panes to television tubes and laser-transmitting fibers—glass has become the amorphous substance from which functionless art is made. Suddenly, and in addition to its evolving roles in science, industry, housewares, and the crafts, glass has become a medium of the fine arts, a material in which to conceive and create—often directly—for purely aesthetic purposes.
Thomas S. Buechner, New Glass: A Worldwide Survey, p. 8.
Influential studio glass artists (and educators) whose work appeared in New Glass included Howard Ben Tré (United States), Zoltan Bohus (Hungary), Dale Chihuly (United States), Dan Dailey (United States), Erwin Eisch (Germany), Ray Flavell (United Kingdom), Henry Halem (United States), Jiří Harcuba (Czechoslovakia), Pavel Hlava (Czechoslovakia), Marian Karel (Czechoslovakia), Robert Kehlmann (United States), Günter Knye (German Democratic Republic), Dominick Labino (United States), Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová (Czechoslovakia), Marvin Lipofsky (United States), Harvey Littleton (United States), Finn Lynggaard (Denmark), Paul Marioni (United States), Richard Marquis (United States), Klaus Moje (Federal Republic of Germany), Benjamin Moore (United States), Joel Philip Myers (United States), Tom Patti (United States), Mark Peiser (United States), Narcissus Quagliata (United States), Albin Schaedel (German Democratic Republic), Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen (Federal Republic of Germany), Bertil Vallien (Sweden), František Vízner (Czechoslovakia) and Ann Wärff (Sweden).
The first major traveling survey of international contemporary studio glass to be held in the United States, New Glass: A Worldwide Survey signaled an important shift in glassmaking—from commercial design to studio craft. The exhibition had a significant impact on contemporary glass, and its future development, by validating what was still a young artistic movement.
Well-known designers represented in New Glass included Monica Backström (Sweden), Alfredo Barbini (Italy), Paula Bartron (United States), James Carpenter (United States), Gunnar Cyrén (Sweden), Laura de Santillana (Italy), and Oivva Toikka (Finland).
New Glass was conceived by the Museum’s president and director, Thomas S. Buechner, managed by Antony Snow, deputy director for communications, and curated by William Warmus, assistant curator of 20th-century glass. Museum staff worked with an invited jury, which included Franca Santi Gualteri, editor of the Italian magazine Abitare; Russell Lynes, art historian and journalist; Werner Schmalenbach, director of the Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf, Germany; and Paul Smith, director of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York.
New Glass opened at The Corning Museum of Glass in 1979. It subsequently traveled to The Toledo Museum of Art (1979); The Renwick Gallery, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (1980); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1980–1981); California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1981), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1981); Musée des Arts Décoratifs du Louvre, Paris (1982); and the Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo (1982).
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