There’s a fascinating article in the History Of Psychiatry (Volume 1, No. 2, 191 – 206, 1990 to be precise) about a type of delusion that was widely reported in the 15th to 17th centuries but rarely occurs in modern times.
Since the writer’s purpose is always to entertain and educate the reader, let me immediately tantalize you with a choice collection of words – they all belong in the story you are about to hear:
- Rene Descartes
Now I am perfectly aware that popular delusions are often related to recent technological developments.
So bear in mind that the first clear glass, Cristallo, was invented only in the 15th century.
And that it was as late as 1675 when George Ravenscroft invented lead crystal glass by adding lead oxide to Venetian glass.
Even so, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of this particular delusion which caused its sufferers – mainly scholars or lovers – to believe that they were made of glass and to fear they would shatter if they suffered from even the lightest knock …
Yes, people really believed they were made of glass …
People really did believe they would shatter if someone knocked them …
A few choice examples, because I am actually rather keen to talk about silver stain today:
1. Yes I know it’s fiction, but Cervantes’ eponymous Glass Graduate, Tomas Rodaja (1613), is accidentally poisoned by an enamoured woman, which leaves him crazy and believing that his body is made from glass.
2. This one isn’t fiction. No less a doctor than Alfonso Ponce de Santa Cruz (c. 1614) reports the incident of a man who believed he was made of glass and therefore languished on a bed of straw to avoid being broken.
3. This one’s true as well. Louise de Casaneuve, physician to the French court, describes the the case of a glass maker from the Parisian suburb of Saint Germain who always applied a small cushion to his buttocks, even when standing, for fear that, being made of glass, they would shatter (1626).
Which brings me 13 years later to Rene Descartes. (And, yes, soon to the topic of silver stain.)
Descartes wanted to doubt everything which could be doubted so as then to be able to build a sound edifice of knowledge only on the securest possible foundations (whence his famous cogito – “I think, therefore I am”).
And if you’re wondering “Why would he want to do that?”, do bear in mind that the Enlightenment hadn’t yet begun, and someone had to get the ball rolling.
But it’s Descartes’ starting point which nowadays catches my eye.
He first remarks how he cannot doubt that “I am in this place, seated by the fire, clothed in a winter dressing gown, that I hold in my hands this piece of paper”.
Yet within moments he is assailed by the terrible uncertainties he wants to banish.
He sadly concludes that people who doubt the physical reality of their own hands and bodies are no more crazy than people who believe their bodies are made from glass (Meditation 1, section 4).
Now whenever you’re feeling a bit low and dispirited with things, cheer yourself up with the thought that the work we all do with our glass lies right at the very heart of the great Enlightenment project to banish superstition and bring certainty to man’s quest for knowledge.
Bring me my sable of truth, and all that.
Yes, it’s all our fault, don’t you know. All that science thing …
But silver stain, yes.
Remember how a few weeks back we talked together about the difference between painting on paper and painting on glass?
Actually this was David’s post, and he got fairly hot under the collar with the popular notion that the stained glass painter is someone who “paints with light”.
Because in fact the stained glass painter uses oxide-based pigments to block the light, not paint with it.
And then I chipped in with a seductive video clip of using oil-based glass paint to touch up Martha’s face.
Both of us were keen to put forward the (we maintain) helpful (if provocative) notion that the glass painter is someone who paints with darkness.
Well, only up to a point.
Because, whereas glass paint blocks light – silver stain allows light to pass through it.
And it’s perfectly possible to learn to paint with stain, and then to prepare your designs with this ability in mind.
Now the primary sense of “delusion” is anything which deceives the mind with a false appearance.
And silver stain is the main tool at our disposal to conceal the artfulness of what we do, because it is a kind of “paint” which, once fired, no longer sits on the surface of the glass, but which becomes part of the glass, and changes its ionic structure.
Yes, the silver stainer as painter of heavenly delusions …
Now after all this hard work, you’ve earned a moment’s relaxation.
So sit back, turn on your speakers – because the music’s great – and watch this short video.
It’s meant to be fun, but I know we English have a strange sense of humour.
Proven techniques – interested?
Keep your wits about you or the glass Green Man will come and get you!
Put an end to your disappointment with silver stain – find out how it’s really done …
Click here for how to trace, blend, shade and flood with silver stain.