Friday, October 4, 2013

Sara Vincx

Still life with façon de Venise wineglass,
Alexander Adriaenssen (1587-1661)
The seven years that Antonio Neri spent in Antwerp were arguably the most formative for his knowledge of glassmaking. While his first exposure to the art was in Italy, a large portion of the skills and recipes exhibited in his book trace to his activities in the Low Countries. Neri writes "This will make a beautiful aquamarine so nice and marvelous, that you will be astonished, as I have done many times in Flanders in the city of Antwerp to the marvel of all those that saw it." On tinting rock crystal: "In Antwerp, I made quite a bit of this, some ranged in tint from an opal color that looked very beautiful, to a girasol, similarly nice." On equipment: "In Antwerp, I built a furnace that held twenty glass-pots of various colors and when fired for twenty-four hours everything fused and purified." He also speaks of chalcedony glass, paste gems  and ultramarine paint all crafted in Antwerp. 

During Neri's visit, the premier glass factory in Antwerp was operated by Filippo Gridolfi and Neri was on good terms with him. Gridolfi possessed an exclusive license to produce cristallo glass in the Venetian style (façon de Venice). The license, or patent as it was called, passed down from previous owners, was quite a valuable part of the operation. Employed in his shop was a steady stream of craftsmen from Murano. They produced the finest glassware for the elite class of Antwerp and surrounding areas. Because these craftsmen were bringing the secret techniques with them, they worked outside of the guild system, through special arrangements with the local authorities.    

Before Gridolfi, the furnace was run, and run with success, by his then soon-to-be wife, Sara Vincx (or Vincks). She was the widow of the former owner, Ambrogio de Mongarda. Gridolfi had previously worked in the shop under Mongarda, who had been in the business for twenty years. Vincx was pressed into service by unhappy circumstances. In 1594, Ambrogio returned alone to Venice to recuperate from gout, but by the following year he was dead, leaving Sara to both run the glass shop and care for at least eight young children. Sara Vincx carries a distinction as the first documented female owner of a glass furnace anywhere. She took an active role in the business as attested by lawsuits she filed, and won, against rival shops that violated her patent. She also expanded the furnace and hired two new artisans to increase production.

Despite the war and the blockade of the Scheldt River in Antwerp, the glass furnace there thrived and reached its zenith under Vincx and Gridolfi. Soon after their marriage, seventeen employees were counted working at the shop. They established their own retail presence on the Meir, selling high-end cristallo to the elite within steps of the Ximenes palace and the d'Evora jewelers. Their glass operation enjoyed top-rung status, and no doubt, Antonio Neri's involvement must have bolstered the reputation of the firm even further.

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