This curious pair of panels depicting the Continence of Scipio and The Mocking of Christ are rare examples of verre églomisé.
While this technique of reverse glass painting was popular during the Italian Renaissance, when small pieces of glass were used to decorate crosses and altarpieces, it also was regularly used in the Netherlands, Saxony, Bohemia and Austria on jewelry, furniture, snuff boxes, and other vessels, until the early 18th century. The most accomplished and impressive examples, however, can be found in the form of paintings, but because of their fragile nature, very few examples from the 16th-18th century survive.
Although one of the panels illustrates the historical story of the Continence of Scipio, and the other the biblical story of The Mocking of Christ
, their similarities in size and rendering suggest that they were likely completed in the same workshop and possibly were once part of a larger series. Each would have been completed in three steps in reverse order, sometimes with a stencil and other times with the assistance of a mirror. First, the top layer of black paint known as schwarzlot
was applied to reverse of the glass surface. Next, using a needle or a feather tip, the design of the composition would be scratched into the black layer. Finally, transparent color and varnishes would be placed in selective areas, along with silver and gold foil, on the back of the glass. Fascinating is the relationship between the two sides of the glass, particularly the way the seemingly abstract blocks and areas of flat color and foil on the reverse are able to be transformed, through a painstaking attention to detail, into a composition complete with contrast, dynamism, vibrancy, and metallic sparkle (figs. 1 and 2). All of these striking visual characteristics are even further enhanced by the way the light reflects off their glass surfaces.
One is tempted to regard these two finely wrought objects as prints, since they are so sharply defined, and indeed their designs are scratched onto the back of the glass, just as an etcher scratches the wax off of an etching plate with a needle or burin. Yet no known engravings or etchings can be linked to these subjects, so we are left to conclude that this artisan was conversant with the printmakers of his day.