Secrecy and Working Conditions in Munich c. 1600.

1. The Problem of Secrecy

In the final years of the sixteenth century  several rulers were already taking an interest  in Blasius Fistulator’s invention; as early as 1590 Carlo di Cesare del Palagio had supplied Stuckmarmor to Elector Christian I of Saxony  (Chapter 8. 4). The fact that three years later Carlo was called back to Munich to work on the bronze memorial statues for Duke Wilhelm V suggests that the Bavarian ruler was relaxed about sharing the new technique with one of his peers; perhaps he saw the interest shown by the Saxon Elector as an affirmation of his own artistic and cultural standing.

Duke Maximilian I seemed equally relaxed in 1597 when Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga asked him to supply a scagliola worker for his memorial monument in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua (Chapter 8. 4). As a newly-crowned ruler, Maximilian may have felt that granting the request was a way of promoting good diplomatic relations with one of Italy’s most prestigious courts.

From that time on, however, the new Duke became increasingly protective of the material.  In 1599 the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian III visited the Munich Residence and was greatly impressed by ‘the work of the stuccador’. He asked his Munich-based courtier, Martin Fraislich, to see if the the young ruler could be persuaded to lend out the man responsible for the production of the coloured stucco marble that had so impressed him, and which he wanted to use in his residence at Mergentheim.  The valet counselled extreme caution. The Archduke should initially request only the services of a journeyman stuccador, who could travel to Mergentheim and test the feasibility of the local gypsum and alabaster; once this preliminary research had been done (and assuming the tests were positive), Fraislich thought it would be harder for the Bavarian Duke to refuse him the loan of ‘the true Master’ (i.e. Blasius Fistulator).  Fraislich also recommended the use of the stuccador and bronze sculptor Hubert Gerhard, who had been taken on by the Austrian Archduke after his dismissal from the Munich court.  Gerhard was already familiar with the technique from working with Blasius on the production of moulded portrait busts (Chapter 10).  

The journeyman stuccador (whose name is unknown) duly went to Mergentheim, where he prepared three ‘poor-quality slabs’ of stuckmarmor. Despite promises that wonderful things would follow through the agency of Gerhard, the project came to nothing and we must assume that the Archduke lost interest.

A further attempt to obtain polished stucco through Gerhard – this time specifically for repairs to marble statuary – was made in 1607 by no less a client than the Emperor Rudolph II, who applied to his brother the Archduke Maximilian for the loan of the stuccador.  Gerhard was reluctant however, excusing himself to Rudolph on the grounds that the Emperor already had the highly competent sculptor Adriaen de Vries working for him in Prague.  His employer the Archduke added that Gerhard would not want to give up the metal casting on which he was now permanently employed and travel to Prague simply to work in gypsum.

These instances of Habsburg royalty trying and failing to obtain scagliola in the early years of the new reign demonstrate how the mood was changing in Munich. The new Duke, more astute – and perhaps less vain – than his father, was quick to appreciate the value of the new material.  It would allow him to decorate the Munich Residence with the appearance of precious and prestigious marbles, but at a fraction of the cost.

Maximilian also realised that the representational value of Blasius’s artificialia would be greatly diminished if it ceased to be exclusive to the Munich court.  He resolved that he himself must have total control over its manufacture and use, and  Blasius, his family and his co-workers were sworn to secrecy.

In 1613 the material was elevated to royal status and a strict monopoly was imposed on its production; but this would prove difficult to enforce, and it became a recurring source of friction between the Fistulators and the court.

2. Scagliola production c. 1610 

In 1609 Duke Maximilian received a request from his cousin Margarethe, Archduchess of Austria (1584-1611) and Queen Consort to King Phillip III of Spain (r.1598-1621).  It came in the form of a letter from the Queen’s German confessor, the Jesuit Father Richard Haller, who had travelled with her to Spain.  He was a close confidant of both the Austrian Hapsburg and the Wittelsbach families, and had been personally responsible for Maximilian’s education at Ingolstadt University. 

Father Haller’s letter informed the Duke that the Queen, a devout Catholic, had decided to build a private oratory in the Spanish capital, and she wanted its walls to be decorated with scagliola panels in the style of Maximilian’s Reiche Kapelle.  To make this possible, she was asking the Duke to send one of his craftsmen to Spain to execute the work.  In an addendum to the letter Father Haller attached a questionnaire which asked for detailed information on the technique. 

Given the international standing of the Queen and Haller and his own personal connections with both, Maximilian was unable to refuse the request.  The questionnaire was duly answered and returned with a covering letter.  Both documents have survived, providing contemporary evidence regarding the working practices of the Munich scagliolists, perceptions of the material’s strengths and weaknesses, and the various applications for which it was considered suitable:  

  • Since neither the inventor of the art nor his son were architects, a trained architect or designer (presumably Hans Krumper) was required to prepare a fully dimensioned design or model for whatever project was envisaged; only then was the work handed over to the scagliolists.

  • There were approximately ten craftsmen working under Blasius. They included members of his own family, and two carvers whose sole responsibility was to carve out the scagliola slabs for inlaying. Other labourers (Handlanger) were responsible for lifting, installing, sanding and polishing.

  • The marble-imitating paste could be polished to reach an even higher shine than marble itself; and not only could it imitate marble, it could also copy hardstones such as Jasper and Lapis Lazuli. Even Emperor Rudolph II’s stonecutters had been fooled, mistaking the scagliola inlays in the Reiche Kapelle for the real thing and naming the stones imitated.  (This account may well have been the source for Hainhoffer’s story – see Chapter10).

  • Transparent stones such as Amethyst and Hyacinth, as well as marbles with translucent veins, were not possible to imitate, for the simple reason that it is not possible to see through gypsum plaster.

  • There were financial advantages for choosing scagliola. It was decidedly cheaper than marble; but even more significant was the fact that it could be used to imitate stones that could only be obtained from distant lands, and then in insufficient quantities.

  • Scagliola could be used in an architectural context for door and chimney surrounds, for walls and vaulting, and for columns, providing they had an internal loadbearing structure of stone or wood. It could also be used for floors, but they quickly lost their shine.  (In later correspondence, Father Haller reported that the Spanish Queen had exposed a scagliola sample sent from Munich to moisture, and found ‘that it immediately lost its polish, which could not be got back’).

Twenty-first century scagliolists will be struck by how little has changed over the centuries;  apart from the cost comparison with marble, there is little in this document of 1609 which does not apply to the manufacture and use of scagliola today.

Even the numbers and divisions of labour seem appropriate in today’s terms.  To supply and fit scagliola on the scale of the Residence work, ten operatives and several labourers would have been a minimum, particularly for the large architectural pieces.  The presence of two trained stone carvers  is evidence of the amount of inlaid work that was being produced.

To prevent knowledge of the technique from circulating, only Blasius, his family and a few trusted colleagues would have known how the raw materials were mixed and blended; this part of the operation would have been carried out in strict secrecy, away from the rest of the workforce.  The same would apply to research into different techniques and recipes for imitating the various marbles.

***

Maximilian’s covering letter gives further insights into the value he placed on the new material and on maintaining its secrecy.  He described the inventor (unnamed, but obviously Blasius Fistulator) as being quite old, and approaching the time when he could no longer work; even so, he would never teach the secrets to anyone except his own children.  In view of his age, Maximilian would be unwilling to send Blasius to Spain, though he agreed to let the Queen have his older son (Wilhelm) once he was sufficiently trained.  Already eighteen, the boy had made a promising start in painting (already considered to be an important part of a scagliolist’s training, as it would later become in Italy).

There were conditions: firstly, as soon as the work was complete, Wilhelm was to be sent back to Munich; secondly, he must not be asked to teach the technique to anyone else, since he was under oath to keep it a secret; thirdly, he must be sent to Spain by sea from Genoa and not overland through France.  Frenchmen had already tried to kidnap him in his youth to take him to their King, but fortunately Maximilian had been able to get him back.

Reading between the lines, it seems clear that Maximilian was less than enthusiastic to share the secrets of scagliola with his cousin and a foreign court.  Given the combined status of Queen Margarethe and Father Haller, he could hardly turn them down; but he could put obstacles in their way.  He exaggerated Blasius’s age and frailty, and probably invented or at least embellished the story of Wilhelm’s abduction by the French.

In the event, the Duke was let off the hook.  The Queen died in childbirth in 1611, and the project to build the Oratory was abandoned.

3.  A Royal Reprimand

The seriousness with which Maximilian treated the issue of secrecy can be judged from a royal protocol that was issued against Blasius in 1617.  A stuccador at the royal court named Isaac Bader had apparently tricked him into revealing enough of the technique to enable Bader to produce two samples, which he was using to obtain work outside the Court.  This came to the Duke’s attention and he was furious.

The protocol reproached Blasius forcefully for not keeping his art a secret, insisting that he should from now on neither speak about it nor show it to anyone, and threatening him  with severe punishment should it get out.  From now on anyone who wanted to learn the art of artificial marble (Kunstmarmoriens) had first to seek the express permission of the Duke himself and swear a formal oath to work only for him and to reveal the secrets of the work to nobody else, not even his own family.

Once again this incident demonstrates the value that Maximilian placed on scagliola production at the Munich Court and his determination to have complete control over it .

References:
Part 1:  The Problem of Secrecy.  Dorothea Diemer, Hubert Gerhard und Carlo di Cesare del Palagio Berlin 2004 Bd. 1, p.115 – also note 191.  pp. 136 & 273-5. 
Part 2: Scagliola Production c. 1610.  Lorenz Seelig, Scagliola und Pietra Dura, Farbige Stein und Stückintarsien in Münchern Schlössern und Museen. Kunst & Antiquitaten 1/1987 pp. 26-39.  The relevant documents were found in the  Bavarian Central State Archive, Black Box 6741 (Spanish Correspondence).
Part 3: Michaela Liebhardt, Die Münchener Scagliolaarbeiten des 17. Und 18. Jahrhunderts: Inaugural Dissertation zur Erlangung des  Doktorgrades de Philosophie an der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität zu München – Aus München 1987

Secrecy and Working Conditions in Munich c. 1600

1. The Problem of Secrecy

In the final years of the sixteenth century  several rulers were already taking an interest  in Blasius Fistulator’s invention; as early as 1590 Carlo di Cesare del Palagio had supplied Stuckmarmor to Elector Christian I of Saxony  (Chapter 8. 4). The fact that three years later Carlo was called back to Munich to work on the bronze memorial statues for Duke Wilhelm V suggests that the Bavarian ruler was relaxed about sharing the new technique with one of his peers; perhaps he saw the interest shown by the Saxon Elector as an affirmation of his own artistic and cultural standing.

Duke Maximilian I seemed equally relaxed in 1597 when Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga asked him to supply a scagliola worker for his memorial monument in the Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua (Chapter 8. 4). As a newly-crowned ruler, Maximilian may have felt that granting the request was a way of promoting good diplomatic relations with one of Italy’s most prestigious courts.

From that time on, however, the new Duke became increasingly protective of the material.  In 1599 the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian III visited the Munich Residence and was greatly impressed by ‘the work of the stuccador’. He asked his Munich-based courtier, Martin Fraislich, to see if the the young ruler could be persuaded to lend out the man responsible for the production of the coloured stucco marble that had so impressed him, and which he wanted to use in his residence at Mergentheim.  The valet counselled extreme caution. The Archduke should initially request only the services of a journeyman stuccador, who could travel to Mergentheim and test the feasibility of the local gypsum and alabaster; once this preliminary research had been done (and assuming the tests were positive), Fraislich thought it would be harder for the Bavarian Duke to refuse him the loan of ‘the true Master’ (i.e. Blasius Fistulator).  Fraislich also recommended the use of the stuccador and bronze sculptor Hubert Gerhard, who had been taken on by the Austrian Archduke after his dismissal from the Munich court.  Gerhard was already familiar with the technique from working with Blasius on the production of moulded portrait busts (Chapter 10).  

The journeyman stuccador (whose name is unknown) duly went to Mergentheim, where he prepared three ‘poor-quality slabs’ of stuckmarmor. Despite promises that wonderful things would follow through the agency of Gerhard, the project came to nothing and we must assume that the Archduke lost interest.

A further attempt to obtain polished stucco through Gerhard – this time specifically for repairs to marble statuary – was made in 1607 by no less a client than the Emperor Rudolph II, who applied to his brother the Archduke Maximilian for the loan of the stuccador.  Gerhard was reluctant however, excusing himself to Rudolph on the grounds that the Emperor already had the highly competent sculptor Adriaen de Vries working for him in Prague.  His employer the Archduke added that Gerhard would not want to give up the metal casting on which he was now permanently employed and travel to Prague simply to work in gypsum.

These instances of Habsburg royalty trying and failing to obtain scagliola in the early years of the new reign demonstrate how the mood was changing in Munich. The new Duke, more astute – and perhaps less vain – than his father, was quick to appreciate the value of the new material.  It would allow him to decorate the Munich Residence with the appearance of precious and prestigious marbles, but at a fraction of the cost.

Maximilian also realised that the representational value of Blasius’s artificialia would be greatly diminished if it ceased to be exclusive to the Munich court.  He resolved that he himself must have total control over its manufacture and use, and  Blasius, his family and his co-workers were sworn to secrecy.

In 1613 the material was elevated to royal status and a strict monopoly was imposed on its production; but this would prove difficult to enforce, and it became a recurring source of friction between the Fistulators and the court.

2. Scagliola production c. 1610 

In 1609 Duke Maximilian received a request from his cousin Margarethe, Archduchess of Austria (1584-1611) and Queen Consort to King Phillip III of Spain (r.1598-1621).  It came in the form of a letter from the Queen’s German confessor, the Jesuit Father Richard Haller, who had travelled with her to Spain.  He was a close confidant of both the Austrian Hapsburg and the Wittelsbach families, and had been personally responsible for Maximilian’s education at Ingolstadt University. 

Father Haller’s letter informed the Duke that the Queen, a devout Catholic, had decided to build a private oratory in the Spanish capital, and she wanted its walls to be decorated with scagliola panels in the style of Maximilian’s Reiche Kapelle.  To make this possible, she was asking the Duke to send one of his craftsmen to Spain to execute the work.  In an addendum to the letter Father Haller attached a questionnaire which asked for detailed information on the technique. 

Given the international standing of the Queen and Haller and his own personal connections with both, Maximilian was unable to refuse the request.  The questionnaire was duly answered and returned with a covering letter.  Both documents have survived, providing contemporary evidence regarding the working practices of the Munich scagliolists, perceptions of the material’s strengths and weaknesses, and the various applications for which it was considered suitable:  

  • Since neither the inventor of the art nor his son were architects, a trained architect or designer (presumably Hans Krumper) was required to prepare a fully dimensioned design or model for whatever project was envisaged; only then was the work handed over to the scagliolists.

  • There were approximately ten craftsmen working under Blasius. They included members of his own family, and two carvers whose sole responsibility was to carve out the scagliola slabs for inlaying. Other labourers (Handlanger) were responsible for lifting, installing, sanding and polishing.

  • The marble-imitating paste could be polished to reach an even higher shine than marble itself; and not only could it imitate marble, it could also copy hardstones such as Jasper and Lapis Lazuli. Even Emperor Rudolph II’s stonecutters had been fooled, mistaking the scagliola inlays in the Reiche Kapelle for the real thing and naming the stones imitated.  (This account may well have been the source for Hainhoffer’s story – see Chapter10).

  • Transparent stones such as Amethyst and Hyacinth, as well as marbles with translucent veins, were not possible to imitate, for the simple reason that it is not possible to see through gypsum plaster.

  • There were financial advantages for choosing scagliola. It was decidedly cheaper than marble; but even more significant was the fact that it could be used to imitate stones that could only be obtained from distant lands, and then in insufficient quantities.

  • Scagliola could be used in an architectural context for door and chimney surrounds, for walls and vaulting, and for columns, providing they had an internal loadbearing structure of stone or wood. It could also be used for floors, but they quickly lost their shine.  (In later correspondence, Father Haller reported that the Spanish Queen had exposed a scagliola sample sent from Munich to moisture, and found ‘that it immediately lost its polish, which could not be got back’).

Twenty-first century scagliolists will be struck by how little has changed over the centuries;  apart from the cost comparison with marble, there is little in this document of 1609 which does not apply to the manufacture and use of scagliola today.

Even the numbers and divisions of labour seem appropriate in today’s terms.  To supply and fit scagliola on the scale of the Residence work, ten operatives and several labourers would have been a minimum, particularly for the large architectural pieces.  The presence of two trained stone carvers  is evidence of the amount of inlaid work that was being produced.

To prevent knowledge of the technique from circulating, only Blasius, his family and a few trusted colleagues would have known how the raw materials were mixed and blended; this part of the operation would have been carried out in strict secrecy, away from the rest of the workforce.  The same would apply to research into different techniques and recipes for imitating the various marbles.

***

Maximilian’s covering letter gives further insights into the value he placed on the new material and on maintaining its secrecy.  He described the inventor (unnamed, but obviously Blasius Fistulator) as being quite old, and approaching the time when he could no longer work; even so, he would never teach the secrets to anyone except his own children.  In view of his age, Maximilian would be unwilling to send Blasius to Spain, though he agreed to let the Queen have his older son (Wilhelm) once he was sufficiently trained.  Already eighteen, the boy had made a promising start in painting (already considered to be an important part of a scagliolist’s training, as it would later become in Italy).

There were conditions: firstly, as soon as the work was complete, Wilhelm was to be sent back to Munich; secondly, he must not be asked to teach the technique to anyone else, since he was under oath to keep it a secret; thirdly, he must be sent to Spain by sea from Genoa and not overland through France.  Frenchmen had already tried to kidnap him in his youth to take him to their King, but fortunately Maximilian had been able to get him back.

Reading between the lines, it seems clear that Maximilian was less than enthusiastic to share the secrets of scagliola with his cousin and a foreign court.  Given the combined status of Queen Margarethe and Father Haller, he could hardly turn them down; but he could put obstacles in their way.  He exaggerated Blasius’s age and frailty, and probably invented or at least embellished the story of Wilhelm’s abduction by the French.

In the event, the Duke was let off the hook.  The Queen died in childbirth in 1611, and the project to build the Oratory was abandoned.

3.  A Royal Reprimand

The seriousness with which Maximilian treated the issue of secrecy can be judged from a royal protocol that was issued against Blasius in 1617.  A stuccador at the royal court named Isaac Bader had apparently tricked him into revealing enough of the technique to enable Bader to produce two samples, which he was using to obtain work outside the Court.  This came to the Duke’s attention and he was furious.

The protocol reproached Blasius forcefully for not keeping his art a secret, insisting that he should from now on neither speak about it nor show it to anyone, and threatening him  with severe punishment should it get out.  From now on anyone who wanted to learn the art of artificial marble (Kunstmarmoriens) had first to seek the express permission of the Duke himself and swear a formal oath to work only for him and to reveal the secrets of the work to nobody else, not even his own family.

Once again this incident demonstrates the value that Maximilian placed on scagliola production at the Munich Court and his determination to have complete control over it .

References:
Part 1:  The Problem of Secrecy.  Dorothea Diemer, Hubert Gerhard und Carlo di Cesare del Palagio Berlin 2004 Bd. 1, p.115 – also note 191.  pp. 136 & 273-5. 
Part 2:  Scagliola production c. 1610.  Lorenz Seelig, Scagliola und Pietra Dura, Farbige Stein und Stückintarsien in Münchern Sclössern und Museen. Kunst & Antiquitaten 1/1987 pp. 26-39.  The relevant documents are located  in the  Bavarian Central State Archive, Black Box 6741 (Spanish Correspondence).
Part 3: Michaela Liebhardt, Die Münchener Scagliolaarbeiten des 17. Und 18. Jahrhunderts: Inaugural Dissertation zur Erlangung des  Doktorgrades de Philosophie an der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität zu München – Aus München 1987.