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Between Venice and France, enamelled glass becomes art during the Renaissance


“What matters is to have a questioning gaze”, asserts Thierry Crépin-Leblond, director of the National Renaissance Museum, housed in the castle of Ecouen (Val-d’Oise). And, indeed, questions arise when visiting the new exhibition presented there, of which he is the co-curator. Entitled “Glazing in the Renaissance”, it was set up in partnership with the Center for Research and Restoration of Museums of France (C2RMF). The exhibition is also an opportunity to (re) discover the castle of Ecouen, unfairly overlooked. A masterpiece by Jean Bulland, who also built the Château de Chantilly, it is surrounded by a national forest and enjoys a panorama over the plain of Paris.

Some glasses evoke other materials, flirting with the clarity of crystal, the indigo blue of lapis lazuli, even the silky feel of porcelain.

The curators wanted the very first object in the exhibition to be crystal, and not glass, to arouse the curiosity of visitors. The first part of the course is an introduction to glass making, this clever marriage of a source of silica – generally crushed quartz -, an alkaline source – ashes from ferns or maritime plants, often imported from Syria – , and possible coloring elements. Its particularity is its almost magical capacity to cover an infinite spectrum of materials and even to change color. Thus, certain midnight blue enamels become amber depending on the diffraction of the passing light.

Read also Ecouen, an unknown Renaissance masterpiece

The magic goes even further when certain glasses evoke other materials, flirting with the clarity of crystal, the indigo blue of lapis lazuli, even the silky feel of porcelain. One of the most beautiful objects on display is a salt shaker found in the excavations of the former monastery of Padua, Italy, a lattimo glass (opaque white milk color) reminiscent of porcelain. The magnificent profile of a woman decorating it evokes painting by Vittore Carpaccio, painter to the taste of the time. Another remarkable piece, a stemmed glass, on loan from the Wallace Collection in London representing a crucifixion, one of the finest examples of French enameled glass from the 16th century.e century.

Unparalleled clarity

Since the Middle Ages, glass production in Venice, the gateway to the Mediterranean Basin, has been under the influence of the Orient. The work of artisans, who aim to obtain the most ethereal glass possible, results in a technical innovation, the crystallo, a recipe that offers great clarity to the glass, due to an ash purification treatment. Thanks to this unequaled clarity, the production of glass experienced a craze in the middle of the XVe century, and there were no less than 25 workshops on the Venetian island of Murano. These productions are so successful in Europe that Venetian glassmakers travel to France and settle there. The royal glassworks of Saint-Germain-en-Laye becomes the most important of the French kingdom with its objects “In the style of Venice”.

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