In 1679, Johannes Kunckel published his translation of Antonio Neri’s L’Arte vetraria (The Art of Glass): Ars Vitraria experimentalis, oder vollkommene Glasmacher-Kunst. Neri’s book was the first to focus solely on the subject of glassmaking and became an important manual for European glassmakers.1
Reprinted and translated into several languages, the book was owned by everyone from Galileo Galilei to Charles II, king of England. Each time the book was translated, the author would add his own glass knowledge, making L’Arte vetraria a living text. A chemist and director of a glassworks, Kunckel made his mark on the German translation by including the first-known description of lampworking.
In a section titled “On little glass blowing,” Kunckel writes:
“The technique of lamp blowing is not the most useful in the art of glass but it is a sector of glass art that makes it possible to create elegant objects. I shall offer a brief description here.
“First of all, one must procure small canes or perforated tubes, also partially solid, of good clear glass and of any kind of color in a furnace. The best pieces are those of broken Venetian glass. One needs a workbench (A), as can be seen in the illustration [below], where four or more persons can work, each with a lamp (B) fueled by colza oil or something similar, supplied by a robust wick of pressed cotton. Below the bench are bellows (D), driven by the craftsman by means of a pedal (E) that pushes the air through a small metal tube going across the bench. The end of the small tube is indicated as (C), inside of which another small tube that is curved forwards is inserted, ending with a narrow hole for the air to come out, which, striking the flame of the lamp the craftsman is working with, produces a concentrated and slim flame. The procedure is similar to the one adopted by a goldsmith to solder and cast metals. Once can also just use the mouth to blow on the tube. This results in a pointed flame that produces such a blazing heat that even the hardest glass softens.
“One takes a small glass tube and heats it in the flame at one end, while blowing at the other, thus creating a ball and anything else one desires, for example figurines, crucifixes, or small vases. Small tweezers and metal wire are also used to join the pieces of glass that the craftsman is heating in the flame. The small tube C is opposite each craftsman sitting at the bench. G is a small pulley with the rope that drives the bellows. F is a metal (or wood) funnel that is linked to a tube to allow the smoke and vapors from the lamp to escape. This art requires great study and an expert teacher.”2
Kunckel’s description of lampworking has been quoted, translated, and copied countless times, influencing the reputation of this art for generations.3
- Paul Engle. “Antonio Neri: Alchemist, Glassmaker, Priest.” All About Glass. December 23, 2013.
- This translation comes from Sandro Zecchin’s Il Vetro a Lume: L’oggettistica fino al XIX secolo (Lampworking: Glass items up to the 19th century). Translated by Pamela Jean Santini and Christina Cawthra. Venezia: Grafiche 2am editore, 2018, 20-21.
- Rosemarie Lierke. “Early History of Lampworking – Some Facts, Findings and Theories, Part 1: Kunckel’s description of lampworking in the Arts Vitraria Experimentalis.” Glastechnische Berichte 63, no. 12 (1990): 364.
- Copy owned and digitized by the Rakow Research Library.