Diamond-point engraved designs are surely among the most elegant decorations ever used on glass. They reveal their magic up close: plants entwine in breath-taking detail across the vessel's surface or carefree, serene angels hold up noble coats of arms.
Join us on a journey through a unique chapter of glass history!
Goblet with armorials and garden pavillion "Leeuwenberg"Landesmuseum Württemberg
Since the Renaissance, nobility and wealthy citizens have decorated their estates with diamond-point engraved glass. Glass in itself was pure luxury and not for every budget: because of their fragility, glass objects had to be replaced frequently.
Pokals like this one were displayed in the art collections of their owners when they were not being used at banquets: they often stood with other glasses and precious vessels on a separate table, the credenza. They were handed to the diners by a servant for a toast or other drinking ritual.
How Does Diamond-Point Engraving Work?
For diamond-point engraving you need a stylus with a very hard tip made of the minerals diamond or corundum. This stylus is used to etch motifs into the glass. By doing so, you can depict the finest details, such as the strings of a harp or the individual hairs of a lion’s mane.
Pokal decorated with a balloon flight (after 1783)Landesmuseum Württemberg
A variation is “stipple-engraving”: with the diamond stylus, dots of different depths are set, which together create a motif.
This creates works of art of astonishing three-dimensionality: the ruffles of a robe or the envelope of a hot-air balloon can be depicted in a delicate and realistic way.
Since the Middle Ages, particularly pure and high-quality glass has been produced in Venice - more precisely on the island of Murano. In 1535, Vincenzo di Angelo da Gallo (life dates unknown) applied here for a privilege for the diamond-point engraving technique. Although this gave him exclusive rights, diamond-point engraving spread throughout Murano and beyond. This large plate is an impressive example of diamond-point engraving in 16th century Venice.
Venice on Everyone's Lips
Venetian glass art was also very popular outside Italy. Because Venice made a lot of money from its luxury glass, the Republic threatened its glassmakers with harsh penalties for emigration or betraying manufacturing secrets. Nevertheless, some sought their fortune abroad with their own glassworks.
Elegant winged goblets, whose shafts were formed from filigree trails in the shape of wings, snakes or birds, were bestsellers in Venetian glass production. They were now being produced north of the Alps, too.
Making a Goblet from Parts (2007)Original Source: The Corning Museum of Glass
Making a Goblet from Parts
In the 17th century, decorating glass by hand using diamond-point engraving became fashionable among wealthy citizens in the Netherlands. Although made by artistic amateurs, the results of this trend are impressive: wealthy merchants, merchants’ daughters or even master scribes such as Bastiaan Boers (1650-1713) embellished glass with calligraphic toasts, Bible verses, or flowers and insects. This Roemer glass bears the inscription: “Heden vrolyk morgen Sorgen” - “Today merry, tomorrow sorrow.”
With Lots of Verve!
The aesthetics of the written word have been taken up in art frequently. Calligraphic images were made by master scribes, but also by artistic amateurs: Johann Michael Püchler the Younger (1679-1709) came from a family of bathhouse keepers in which many produced small-scale artworks, so-called micrographs, in addition to their profession.
To the Point
In addition to diamond-point engraving by amateurs, stipple-engraving emerged in the Netherlands in the early 18th century. The technique was developed by Frans Greenwood (1680-1763), a Rotterdam-born financial official with English roots. Greenwood passed stipple-engraving on to his students: one of them, the painter and etcher Aert Schouman (1710-1792), produced this portrait of the young Stadtholder of the Netherlands, William V of Orange (1748-1806).
Glass from England, Motifs from the Netherlands
Stipple-engraving required glass that was as “soft” and pure as possible: the surface had to be easy to work with the diamond stylus. The Dutch therefore imported particularly soft glass from England to decorate it with their own motifs. English glass - for example, slender goblets with cut decorations - appealed to Dutch tastes: this goblet glass with a faceted stem was made in England or the Netherlands. The rounded cup features a stipple-engraved portrait of Egbert de Vry Temminck (1700-1785), mayor of Amsterdam.
Master of Dots and Putti
One of the most famous artists in stipple-engraving is David Wolff (1732-1798), who worked in The Hague in the second half of the 18th century. In addition to statesmen and public figures, he decorated glass with angels - also known as putti - in the rococo style: they often depict allegories of virtues such as loyalty and friendship and were probably popular gifts for this reason.
Diamond-engraved goblets by David Wolff (2022)Landesmuseum Württemberg
In Terms of Points
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884-1886) by Georges SeuratThe Art Institute of Chicago
Stipple-engravings from the Netherlands resemble a painting style that became popular 100 years after David Wolff:
Here, too, motifs are formed with the help of small dots.
One major difference between stipple-engraving and pointillism, however, is the way they are received: while stipple-engraved decorations on glass are micrographic artworks and are viewed up close, the often oversized works of Pointillism are meant to be viewed from a distance.
In addition, colour is an important conceptual element of this style which is absent in stipple-engraving.
Points and Light
What connects Pointillism and stipple-engraving is the importance of light to both art forms: black and white pointillist prints show that three-dimensionality can be depicted as a play of light and shadow entirely without colours.
Stipple-engraved images are enlivened by the light shimmering through the glass: with each reflection, the motif appears more vivid and radiant than before.
The View of the Horizon
Diamond-point engraved glass is of unique beauty. It was a status symbol and evidence of enormous craftsmanship. Its history also gives us insight into economic relationships and trends since the 16th century. Come and visit our diamond-point engraved glasses in the exhibition “Glass from Four Millennia”!
Glass From Four Millennia (Glas_Vid.1)Landesmuseum Württemberg
Glass from Four Millennia
Concept/text/ english translation: Judith Thomann
Editorial Work/realization; Anna Gnyp
English proofreading: Ryan Hampton
Photos and Film: Hendrik Zwietasch, Jonathan Leliveldt
Video of dragon-stem goblet courtesy of The Corning Museum of Glass, cmog.org, https://www.youtube.com/user/corningmuseumofglass