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Etched and Engraved Glass of the Netherlands

In the world of antique glass, the Dutch are best known for their accomplishments in decoration, excelling in the techniques of diamond point engraving. Although the technique is also seen in Venetian and German glass, by the 17th century diamond point engraving was no longer common in those areas. On the other hand, artisans in the Netherlands continued to pursue engraving in the 17th and 18th centuries and later, and it is they that brought the form to its height. Collectibility of Dutch engraved glass is enhanced by the tendency of the artists to sign and date their work. It would be challenging indeed to assemble a representative collection of Dutch engraving. Although lesser, anonymous, pieces from the 19th century might be acquired for less than $100, signed and dated pieces from recognized artists and houses can easily bring $50,000 or more at auction, and works by some will only be seen in museums.

The glass industry in the Netherlands dates back to the mid-16th century. Venice, through its glassmaker guilds, had maintained a closely guarded monopoly on the production of cristallo. However, there was a growing movement in the Netherlands to encourage local manufacture of luxury goods. In 1549 Antwerp granted Cremona glassmaker Jean de Lame the exclusive right to produce Venetian style glass. In 1558 the patent was assigned to Jacopo Pasquetti of Brescia who established a glasshouse, as well as Antwerp's central position in Venetian style glassmaking outside of Italy. It was in this age that the term facon de Venise came into being.

It should be noted that the Dutch in the classic period never did develop a distinctive style of glass manufacture. As glass crafts in the region matured, and the Dutch enthusiasm for decorative arts blossomed, many of the most significant engravings were made on imported glass such as Venetian soda glass, German Waldglas, and English leaded glass.

Diamond point engraving is a technique which was employed as far back as ancient Rome. As the term implies, a diamond is used to cut an image, lettering, or other decoration into the glass. Early engraving techniques involved scratching the image onto the glass. The engraving would have likely been done freehand and based on linear designs. Anna Roemers Visscher (1584-1651) is earliest of the recognized Dutch glass artists, and her work is largely considered to be unsurpassed. Visscher was from an aristocratic family and dabbled in many artistic and intellectual pursuits. Her glass engravings feature flowers and insects believed to be inspired by the natural history books which were popular in her time. Five signed examples of her work survive - although there would almost certainly have been more. Two of the surviving pieces are in the possession of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

A variation of diamond point engraving, is diamond stippling. In stippling, rather than scratching the image onto the surface, the artist gently taps a diamond pointed tool onto the glass and renders the image using a large number of dots. Areas of dark and light are created by varying the density of the dots in the same way that photographs in a modern newspaper are rendered. Engravings produced in this way are known for their delicacy. Although Anna Roemers Visscher did experiment with stippling, Frans Greenwood (1680-1763) and David Wolff (1732-1798) are the names most frequently associated with the technique. Greenwood, an amateur who produced about 50 surviving pieces, was known for floral and fruit motifs often inspired by paintings. A stipple-engraved friendship goblet dated 1722 and signed by Frans Greenwood recently realized a value of $57,000 at auction. Wolff, a professional who followed Greenwood, produced engravings that portrayed children, portraits of aristocrats, and heraldic arms. A stipple-engraved facet-stemmed wine glass attributed to David Wolff and believed to have been crafted circa 1785 recently realized a price of $11,500 at auction.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Netherlands artisans were introduced to leaded glass from England. This English glass was stronger and better suited to a German inspired method of wheel engraving. In wheel engraving, patterns are cut into the surface of glass using discs made of copper or similarly hard materials. The best known of the wheel engraving artists was Jacob Sang (ca.1720-1786). Sang's engravings are characterized by fine, elaborate details, featuring scrollwork, plant life, heraldry, and shipping scenes. His work was quite popular in his own time and he received commissions from across the Netherlands. Sang's engravings are highly sought-after today. A light baluster goblet dated 1760 and signed by Jacob Sang recently realized a price of $26,000 at auction.

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