Glass of Bohemia

The International magazine of literature, art, and science 3 / 1851

This beautiful article is manufactured in various places throughout Germany - most largely amid the very mountainous districts of Bohemia; some of the best, however, is made in Bavaria and sent to Bohemia, and thence exported. The materials from which the glass is formed consist chiefly of the same as those used in England; the manufacturers themselves seem to believe that there is no difference except in the proportions of the materials, and in the fuel, which is exclusively wood, and produces, by a little attention, a more constant and intense heat that can be produced by any coal; the feeding of the furnace with the latter material, they say, always creates a change in the temperature detrimental to the fluid above, and never sufficiently intense. The wooded mountains of Bohemia are entirely inhabited by a population whose industry, morals, hospitality, and kindliness of manners, do honor, not only to this rich and beautiful kingdom, but to the whole human race. They are pure Germans, not of Sclavish origin, and the German dialect alone is spoken. Unlike every other manufacturing district I have ever visited, they retain unimpaired all their rural and primitive virtues. Clean to a proverb, in their houses and persons, hospitable and amiable in their manners, simple in their habits, cheerful and devoted in their religion, they form perhaps, the happiest community in the world. In padding through the country, a stranger would never find out that he was in a manufacturing district, but might fancy himself in the green valleys of a partly pastoral, partly agricultural people. Thickly inhabited, the beautiful little cottages, clustered into villages, or scattered along the glens, or sides of the hills, are embowered with fruit trees, and encircled with shrubs and flowers, which each cottager cultivates with a zeal peculiar to his race; on every side rich fields of grain or pasture stretch out like a vast enamelled carpet between the hills, which are clothed in dense forest of spruce, fir, pine, and beech, filled with deer, roe, and capercalzie; they extend in every direction, far beyond the reach of the eye, one vast cloud of verdure. The fabriques of factories, are placed generally in the middle of one of these villages, the extent of which can only be known by going from house to house; so closely is each hid in its own fruit-bower, and so surrounded by shrubs and flowers, that the eye can only pick up the buildings by their blue smoke, or get a glimpse of them here and there as you advance; thus some of the villages are elongated to three miles, forming the most delicious walk along its grassy road, generally accompanied by a stream, always overhung by a profusion of wild flowers, the mountain-ash, and weeping birch; many of the former only to be found in our gardens.

The fabrique is built like the rest of the cottages, and only differs from them in size, and the shape and height of its chimbey, which emitting only wood smoke, has none of the dense sulphuric cloud which blackens and poisons the neigborhood of coal-fed factories: it is never that ostentatious building for whose magnitude and embellishments the public are obliged to pay in the increased charges of its productions. * The mould are of beech-wood.The glass fabriques of Bohemia are all small, in fact only one large apartment, in the centre of which is the furnace, a circular structure divided into eight compartments containing the melted metal for as many colors; one man and a boy are stationed at the door of each compartment, the former to extract the fluid with his pipe, the latter to hold the wooden mould* in which the article is blown and shaped. The number of hands employed in an ordinary fabrique, are: - Eight man who work in the metal, take it from the fire, and blow it in the moulds; eight helps to hold the moulds, &c.; four to stir the metal, &c.; two breakers; four day laborers.

The best men are sometimes paid from eighteen to twenty shillings a week, and provide their own food, which is good; and as they require much nourishments from the exhausting effects of the heat, it consists of meat, vegetables, and a vast quantity of beer; those who are employed about the furnace especially, drink from twelve to fifteen quarts a day; it is a clear, bitter beverage, which they, in common with all the German race, like beyond every thing else, but it is of little strength; intoxication is almost unknown, and as a proof of their careful and excellent character, in one of the above-mentioned villages, three miles in length, a fire had not been known in the menory of the oldest inhabitants I questioned, though the houses from the ground to the roof are made entirely of wood.

The materials of which the glass in composed, as far as can be ascertained, and they seem to make no secret of it, appear to be the same as those in use in England; they say, they derice their perfection from their mode of mixing and burning the material. Thus the principal component parts are: - Sand; chalk; potash; brimstone; arsecnic, mixed with various colors, regulated by the principal: - Uran oxide; cobalt oxide; coppré oxide; nickel oxide; chrom oxide; minium; tin oxide.

The gold used in ornamenting the glass is from the purest ducats, dissolved in strong acid (artz wasser), the oil with which the colors are mixed is of turpentine (harz öhl).

* These earthen floors are not, as might be supposed from their name, dirty and untidy; they are made with wet clay, which, when dry, becomes quite hard, and can be kept as clean as brick or stone.Nothing is done in most of the blowing fabriques but mixing the material, and coloring; and for cutting, polishing, &c., from three to six wheels are used - all the finishing goes on in the little cottages by which the furnace is surrounded, and with which the valleys and sides of the hills are studded; here you find, within the contracted chambers of these small block-houses, if on the ground-flat, standing on an earthen* floor like our Highland cottages, and artist of the first ability, tracing the exquisite scrolls and flowers which we see in these beautiful works of art; and which are performed by men bearing all the appearance of simple cotters; but whose hand sweeps free and careless over the glass with the confidence and ease of an experienced artist; seldom being provided with more than two very ordinary looking brushes, a small one and another a size larger, and working frequently without any pattern, or indicating lines upon the glass they are painting; but perfect from habitude, the scrolls, and wreaths, and flowers, come out with the same facility as one traces a name upon the dewy pane of a window. Often the whole family are brought up from childhood in painting and drawing on glass, and thus producing a race of hereditary artists; boys from thirteen and upwards are employed in the most delicate works in this genre of art. Each cottage where the paining and gilding go on, is provided with a small oven, into which the glass is put to bake in the colors, where it is kept for a day and allowed to cool down; the white figures and flowers, when they go into the oven, are of a dark chrome color, but come out pure white, as will be observed on examining any glass on which flowers of this color are painted; the gold, also, when laid on, is of a dead brown, and when burnt in, is polished, generally by women of the family. The gold in many instances is left unpolished, and only the stalks and fibres are burnished, which give an excellent effect. It is most interesting to go from one cottage to another; in one you are amazed by the exquisite paintings in gold, silver, and colors; in another, the cutting out all those beautiful leaf-work, lily, bell-flower, octagon, and star-shaped vases, which is done, not only by men, but by their children, girls and boys. In one cottage, I was particularly struck by a man, his two daughters, and son, sitting at as many wheels, cutting the most elaborate, but delicate, figures; shaping from the merely turned over bell vases, those neautiful varieties of lily and flower-intented lamps for suspension, and vessels for holding bouquets, tracing the scrolls, stalks, and fibres, with the same ease as the bare-footed wide and mother prepared their supper in the wooden bowl on the earth-floor behind them; for there was but one apartment for the fine arts, the nursery, and the kitchen, yet all was neatness, perfect cleanliness, and order; while on the long beam which formed the sill of the three mullion windows, was arranged a number of glass objects in the glorious colors of Bohemian art - ruby, emerald, topaz, chrysopras, tuquiose; with pure crystals, which, richly cut, reflected, like a rainbow, the gems by which they are surrounded.  In another cottage, in Steinchonan, I was much pleased with the design which two young men were painting, both in gold, and colors; of which the former were scrolls of a very superior character, and the latter, flowers, butterflies, and insects. I questioned one of the ment respecting the forms and characteristics of those he was painting, and which were beautiful illustrations of Natural History; when he brought me in, from a little bed-room, or rather closet, two boxes full of exquisitely preserved specimens of a great variety of native insects, which he had collected in his leisure hours, and arranged himself, to assist him in his painting. The copies were facsimiles of the originals, both as to colors and character. Among these insects I observed a beautiful miniature craqfish, not so large as a schrimp, a native, also, of the streams in his neighborhood. So identified had these productions of nature become with his imagination, that he was, at the moment I came in, painting some most correctly, without any specimen before him. It is impossible to express the feelings produced by these people, so simple, so industrious, and, above all, so modest. They could not refrain from surprise at the admiration their every-day productions created in us; and these simple artisans would with difficulty believe that their works were sought for, and thus valued, in all powerful and wealthy England, where they believe nothing is unknown, nothing imperfect, nothing impossible! One man whom I visited is and extraordinary genius, rarely to be met with; he has been driven by the force of that same genius, to seek abroad, in France and Bavaria (Munich), food for his mind, and has brought back with him several folio works of engravings from the best masters, from which he designs. Placing before him one of these works, a Raphael or a Rubens, he either copies the group, or composes from them to suit the form of his vase, which he thus embellishes with the most exquisite figures; his name is Charles Antoin Günther. He lives in a little block-house, as humble as the commmonest of those above described, on the declivity of a brae, by a small stream, on which stand the little scattered village of Steinschönau. It is composed of only two apartments below, of which his work-room is one, and which is not above ten feet square, with just space enough to hold four little lathes for engraving glass, at one of which he works himself, while the others are occupied by three boys, the youngest twelve and a half years old, the eldest fifteen! They all engrave beautifully, pieces laid before them by Günther, and which they follow with a faithfulness and spirit only to be believed on personal inspection. He was at work himself on a vase goblet, of the shape of the usual green hock-glass, but which might contain a bottle; it was lapis lazuli blue, enriched by a group of Bacchanalian Cupids and vine-leaves of his own composition, and worked with a spirit and freedom worthy of some of the masters by whose works he was surrounded. What struck me most, was one of those exquisite little figures of Raphael's, in his great picture of the "Madona del Sixto," in the Royal Gallery at Dresden. The cherub leaning on the parapet, with his chin resting on one hand, as he gazes on the Virgin; it is exquisitely drawn in pencil, a fac-simile, and pinned on the wooden wall of the engraver's cottage, immediately opposite his seat. I asked him how he first traced on the glass the subjects which he was to cut; he replied by taking up a plain glass without any figure or indication on its surface, and asking me what subject I should like engraved. On my replying that, being an old deer-stalker, I should be very well pleased with a stag; he immediately applied the wheel to the glass, and in five minutes by my watch, produced one of the most splendid, spirited animals I ever saw in the forest, and really worthy of Landseer; the stag is making a spring over some broken palings and rough foreground, and his action and parts can only be appreciated by those who have lived with the deer on the hill and watched them with the feelings of a hill-man, like Günther, who has had opportunities of seeing the deer in his own native woods, where they abound. I brough this glass away with me, though in itself but an inferior article; merely as a specimen of what I had seen done by this man in the space of five minutes, without a copy or any thing to guide him on the smooth surface of goblet.

I send you sketches of the artist and his dwelling; and as the portrait exhibits, at the same time, his native costume, it will be the more interesting, and cannot fail to give a correct idea of the character of this Bohemian mountaineer.

The sketch of Günther's House will also afford an idea of these Bohemian artisans' dwellings, more so than any written description could do. I send you with it a drawing of another of these picturesque houses.

There are two classes of persons engaged, on a large scale, in the exportation of Bohemian glass - the fabricant and the collector; generally speaking, however, the latter is the direct exporter, and he also superintends the cutting, painting, and packing. The fabricant is more frequently engaged in furnishing the collector, and to a great extent, with the glass in its original and more simple forms as it comes from the furnace, and it is then cut and painted by the cottagers who surround the dwelling of the collector; so that many of these villages are entirely formed by the collector and his people. Others however, employed in the same way, cluster round the fabrique; but even their productions for the most part go to the collectors, who have their correspondents in America, Spain, Turkey, Greece, England, &c.

* This excellence in the decoration of glass is, probably, only a branch of the hight proficiency of the art of engraving and carving, in Germany, on all materials - the metal work of guns, seals engraved on steel and stone, wood, ivory, up to the copper plates of landscape and history; with regard to the second, seal engraving on steel, it cannot be surpassed, and scarcely, if at all, equalled in any other part of Europe. It is wrought with a delicacy unrivalled, and the impressions are equal to the best cutting on stone; it is done, too, at a cost wholly unknown in England, even among to the lowest order of seal engravers, for initials on brass for sealing wine or sauce bottles! It is not only in the depth and sharpness of the cutting, that they excel, but in the beauty of the frawing of the various subjects - figures of men, animals, birds, and the lambrequins and mantlings with which the German heraldry abounds. The cheapness arises, no doubt, from the great patronage enjoyed by the seal engravers. Every nobleman has a large office-seal for each of his properties, and some have a vst number, as, for instance, the Prince Schartzenberg, who has upwards of forty; the full coat of arms is engraved on the office-seal of each lordship. Such, of old, was the case with us; and I remember, among others, a beautiful gold seal, in the possession of the late Gordon of Fyvie, which had a thin topaz, with the arms of Sealton (the ancient lords of Fyvie< engraved upon it, with the colors enamelled on the gold beneath.
A comparison, however, between the prices of these works of art, here and in England, will be more satisfactory and interesting; for an office-seal, which would cost in the latter country, if cut on brass, from 5l. to 7l., costs here from 30s. to 2l. on steel! including a beautifully ornamented base, and polished Bohemian granite, porphyry or agate handle, three inches in length; and such coats of arms as would cost in England, on stone, from 10l. to 20l., can be had here for a third of that sum, and executed in the best style of the art.
Carving in ivory is equally good, and equally moderate. Pipers, also, of that beautiful material erroneously called Meerschaum, and of large dimensions, are carved either with a superb coat of arms or historical subjects, the prices of which vary according to the size of the pipe and number of figures, from 30s. to 2l.!
As might be expected, there is a considerable difference in the designs of different houses; some are much superior to others, both as to color and design. Those of Egermann, in Hyda, who has added many new and valuable discoveries in the art  of making and coloring the glass, and Hoffman, in Prague, are the best I have visited, to which whom Günter engraves. Egerman's establishment in Hyda, for cutting, painting, and engraving, is very considerable, and exhibits first-rate talent, which can only be appreciated by a personal inspection of his works; and the taste and jusgment of Hoffman, in Prague, in his selections, the designs he gives, and the artists he employes, cannot be surpassed, if equalled, in Germany. He has entirely abandoned the modern school, and returned to the first principles of art,* and produces, both in form and decorations, subjects worthy of the ancient masters.

The glass villages are scattered all through the mountainous districts, whose ridges, and summits, and upper ranges are covered with a forest, which extends forty or fifty miles in length, by thirty broad; the fabriquants maintain that the finer glass cannot be brought to perfection but by wood heat, and hence, the glass fabriques are only to be found in these vast forests. One of the most interesting natural formations within this circle is the volcanic rock, called "Spirlingstein," which shoots up out of a little valley on the right bank of the Elbe crowned with a shattered mass of natural towers and turrets which it is difficult to believe, till closely examined, are not hte ruins of one of those feudal holds crowning the summits of so many of the hills in Bohemia. Every village has its school, in which are to be found all the children too old for the nursery, and too young to be employed. Several I visited contained as many as three hundred; the specimens of their writing are beautiful, some quite like engraving; the eldest child, whose specimen I saw, was only thirteen; they sing most sweetly, and many accompanying themselves on the guitar, the schoolmaster being almost always a musician, and capable of playing two or three instruments. There is a church and good organ in each village, and a very good choir entirely composed of these villagers, all of whom play some instrument, and form the choir by turns, generally directed by the schoolmaster. Some of these amateur bands play exquisitely, as an idea may be formed by the families or communities who occasionally visit England, and who are often from a district such as I have described, and whose sole instruction has been that which they could pick up from each other in their hours of recreation. At the fabrique of A. Kittls-Erben of Kreibitz, while at dinner in the garden, and which was provided by the hospitality of the fabriquant, and in great profusion, with a variety of Hungarian and Bohemian wines, I observed a little girl of twelve years of age, who came into the bower with a guitar, and while I was looking round for the performer, the master of the fabrique lifted the little girl on a chair, and laid a music book before her, from which she played and sang a number of Bohemian songs with much taste and execution. All the instruction she ever had was from the schoolmaster, who taught her during the leisure hours of the scholars. She was an orphan, and brought up by the fabriquant. After dinner we walked up the valley to visit a fabrique of Chiochorie; in the way I remarked a little cottage, like the rest, with its fruit-trees and garden, but which had, in addition to its projecting roof and windows filled with flowers, both in pots and Bohemian glass vases, verandahs in carved oak, the scroll-work of which was quite classic, and the execution admirable. While I stopped to examine this, the fabriquant who accompanied me remarked that the owners were makers of musical instruments. On inquiring of what kind, he replied a variety, - violins, accordions, and others. I was met at the door by a man whose appearance was that of a simple cottager, and his manners indicated all the simplicity of rural life. He was told that I wished to see some of his instruments, upon which he bowed, slightly evevated his shoulders, and replied, that he had nothing worth seeing, but would be happy to receive us, and showed us the way, with that natural kindness and politiness, which distinguish the peasants of this country. We followed him up a little carved-wood staircase, and he ushered us into a small, yet clean apartment, where, to my surprise, I found two rather large organs, sufficiently large for a moderate church; one was a peculiar instrument, a pan-harmonicon, invented by himself, with improvements and great facility and simplicity in tuning; it formed a concert of the single organ, brass horns, and kettle drums, having a double row of keys behind, so that the performer was masked by the instrument, which had a handsome front; the face of it could be removed to show the whole interior of the mechanical arrangement. * Their name is Lehmann; residence - Schonfeld, near Kreibitz.Avariety of other instruments were packed in different parts of the room, some of which were large and highly improved accordions, which, as well as the organ, are beautifully played by the brothers,* of whom there are three; their talent for music is extraordinary.

* The ruins of similar little chapels are found all over the highlands and isles of Scotland, however remote, with other sacred edifices, in some of which may still be traced the remains of frescoes. In the ruins of larger buildings the frescoes are more apparent: thus, in the abbey church of Pluscardine, near Elgin, the four Evanelists were distincly visible in 1826, after more than 300 years of ruin and decay. The church in this country is still the great patron of the arts. In every little chapel, however remote or small, (and in some of the minute villages in the mountains, they are not larger than an ordinary room,* though of a vast height in proportion to the length and breadth,) is found a good organ, and always well played. There is also an amateur choir attached to each. These chapels are decorated by paintings and frescoes, some of which are of considerable merit. In the house of a priest, who officiates in one of them, I observed a "Crucifixion," without a frame, apparently quite newly painted, and, on inquiring, I found it was the work of an artist in Antwerp; that it had been bought by the glass-makers of the district, or rather obtained in exchange for some part of a cargo sent to that city, from which they had brough and presented it to their little chapel; it was valued at Antwerp, against the glass, at seven hundred florins ($150).

The little chapels in  the glass districts are also beautifully decorated with colored glass, the rich ruby lamps suspended before the altars, with their ever-burning lamps, the clusters of prisms in the great centre chandelier, reflecting the ruby lights, and gold, and flowers, from the altar, are always - independent of any other feeling - subjects worthy the contemplation of the artist. All the vases for flowers which richly decorate the country churches are of native manufacture - ruby, emerald, topaz, chrysophras, turquoise, and crystal chalices,full of the rarest of those flowers which form  so much the delight and pastime of the inhabitants to cultivate, shed their delicious perfume through their chapels, mingled with the incense which, renewed daily, at morning and evening service, fills the buildings with perpetual fragnance. Another great resource for the arts in this country, which is offered by the Church, is the sculpture of wood. I have often been surprised and confounded by seeing an exquisite Virgin, or Crucifixion, or figure of a patron or local saint, in some far out of the way chapel in the hills, or in some lonely shrine, and even in the niches on the exterior of these buildings: but on inquiry I found that these were often the works of the first artists! the foreman of some native Canova, or Max, whose health, impaired by inhaling the fine dust of the marble, was not obliged to work on till death put an end to his talent; but, before the disease had become incurable, forsook marble for oak, and reproduced in that material all the beauties of the original; and under the fostering wing of the Church recovered his health, and filled his native village church with works of the highest order. It is the same with artists, natives of larger towns; I do not speak of such works as are to be seen in Antwerp, and other cities of note - wonderful productions of rare art in carving, such as the figures which stand on each side of the numerous confessionals in the north transept of the glorious cathedral of the former, nearly as large as life, all emblematical of repentance and forgiveness, and other attributes of contrition and mercy; with many others of nearly, if not quite, the same merit, in the various churches with which this town abounds. These are the works of great masters whose celebrity is European; but to find in the wild and unknown districts of these mountains such works of art - to know there is a sure and safe means for the suffering artist to continue his work and regain his health, while he fills his country with fine objects of art, carved in wood, and which could never be obtained in any other way, is a blessed encouragement to talent, and a field for the arts which can only be appreciated by those who are relieved by it, or those who are dying for want of its protecting hand. Mr. Steel, in Edinburgh, the last time I had the happiness of visiting him in his studio, when he was engaged on that exquisite work the Scott statue, and which has since been placed within the monument erected to this illustrious man, told me he had, then, lately lost one or two of his best men from pulmonary complaint, brought on by inhaling the marble dust; that he had tried every means to counteract its effects, by providing the men with veils and masks, but to no purpose. His best man then at work upon this national masterpiece, was fast failing beneath the effects of the same cause, and is now probably laid with all his talent in the dust, lost to his country in the prime of life, when here, such a man would soon be restrored to health, while he reproduced his works in wood, and maintained himself and family in a comfortable and illustrious independence, enriching his country, and carrying the arts into the remote valleys of his native home.

Thus far we make use of a letter to the Art Journal. In the Great Exhibition we perceive that the glass of Bohemia has attracted much attention, not more for the grace and beauty of its forms than for the recent improvements which have been made in its colors. The principal agent for the sale of Bohemian Glass in the United States is Mr. Collamore, of 447 Broadway, in whose extensive establishment may be seen in particular all the varieties of those vases, and other mantel ornaments, of Bohemian Glass, which, to a great extent, are taking the place of porcelain fabrics, of the same description, in the more fashionably furnished houses. One of these vases we copy here from the Art Journal Catalogue of the Hyde Park Exhibition; others are of different forms, and of colors equalled in richness only in other manufactures of the same country.

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