I recently came across this vitrine at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Whilst the glass dates from the tail-end of the period I study, it seemed to me a fascinating set of artefacts and relevant to this research project.
It’s a collection of beautiful glass vessels, of different colours, shapes and sizes. They were made by Giacomo Verzilini, a Venetian/Muranese glassblower who moved to London in the 1570s and set up a workshop at Crutched Friars in the City of London. Each of the glass vessels is not to be used for drinking; rather, each glass is a replica of glassware depicted in medieval and Renaissance paintings of Christ, the Last Supper and other biblical events which Verzilini had seen throughout Europe. As the Yale University Art Gallery display says, ‘this group of objects was made not as an exploration of form, but as an act of devotion’. It seems that Verzilini used his craftsmanship here for his own devotion, not for reasons of commerce or patronage. The glasses have become known as Verzilini’s ‘Acts of Faith’.
I haven’t been able to find much in the way of scholarly bibliography about this glassware – but it’s such an unfamiliar area to me, I may not be looking in the right places. But the glassware fascinated me, as an eloquent example of the way the biblical world was made material. The glassware suggests that, in Verzilini’s sacramental world, the copy and the original had a similar status, or rather, in this case, copies of copies of the original!
The status of the copy, the replica and the souvenir is really crucial to my research on representations (or re-presentations) of Jerusalem. The two books which have really helped me think about this have been Susan Stewart’s On Longing and Hillel Schwartz’s Culture of the Copy. Schwartz looks at the different technologies which allow ‘the copy to transcend the original’, in his eloquent book which probes our troubled relationship with ideas of authenticity and replication. In their replicas of the Holy Land and its artefacts, medieval and early modern people did not necessarily share our fetishisation of originality; instead, they felt the past through their artefacts and, through cognition and imagination, understood the proximity of the Holy Places to their lives.