The monogrammist VBL, Reverse Glass Painter

Artistic Transfer in the Vice-Kingdom of Naples from 1625 to 1650: The Example of the Monogrammist VBL, Reverse Glass Painter

Around 1625, the monogrammist VBL was working as a glass painter in the Old Swiss Confederacy; he was later a reverse glass painter in Naples, probably until 1650. He executed small-format paintings and also painted glass panels intended for use as drawer-front decoration in cabinets manufactured in Naples. He used a technique known as Amelierung, a process attested in Nuremberg from 1530 and employed in the Old Confederacy from the end of the sixteenth century onwards. Metal leaf is glued to the reverse of a glass plaque, and then engraved; the openings so created are filled with translucent coloured glazes, and finally a second layer of metal leaf, either smooth or crinkled, is added. About 100 works, depicting both sacred and secular subjects and designed to appeal to both italophile and hispanophile clienteles, have been attributed to VBL. At the time, Naples was in fact governed by the Spanish viceroy. Since there is a considerable number of cases where glass panels adopt the same iconographic model but the quality of execution varies, we can posit the existence of a workshop headed by VBL. The identity of this artist remains a subject of controversy. According to several researchers, he may be identified with a certain Viktor Büeler, who came from Solothurn, and who signed himself in Naples with the italianized form of his name, Vittorio Billa.

A doctoral study currently under way focuses on identification of the monogrammist, inventorization of the output of VBL (several of whose reverse glass paintings are housed in the Vitromusée Romont), and an analysis of the monogrammist’s work from the standpoint of artistic transfer. It is not simply a question of gaining insight into the painter’s movements and the circulation of his work, but also of studying how his style, certain iconographic themes, and the technique itself came to be transposed from one geographical area to another. This approach allows us to comprehend the dynamic and dialectic relationships between the objects and their reception contexts, at the point of contact with motifs and skills on a local level. A study of this sort also entails examination of the socio-economic issues relating to these cabinets, which were luxury objects subject to the law of supply and demand, and of the place of reverse glass paintings in the artistic and material cultures of the era.

The research is being carried out by Elisa Ambrosio, under the supervision of Professor Michele Bacci of the department for the history of medieval art, University of Fribourg (Switzerland).

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