While visiting House Six – situated in Amsterdam at the river Amstel and still the home of the family of the famous Jean Six who was Maecenas to Rembrandt, the painter who put Jean on one of the most spectacular portraits of the Dutch Golden Age – the woman who gave us a tour of the place pointed out a very tall 17th-century champagne flute. Her explanation of it may be apocryphal, I don’t know. It is, however, at least probable and we must do with it.

Taking a picture of the glass, up there in the show-case, was not allowed. “That will cost me my job.” That would be too great a sin for your simple chronicler of The Outlandish. Not on my conscience… And what she said is remarkable.

The glass has a height of at least twenty five, probably even thirty centimeters – made of fine crystal, with that delicate touch of the hand-made which one so misses in contemporary industrial glassware. Who, in those days, threw such a glass with a grand gesture in the fire, after having toasted the health and the future of some friend, did more than just perform an act… Today – as so much else today – that same gesture would be a farce.

The comment of the lady who conducted our tour:

A tall glass like this was needed in order that its rim avoided the huge millstone collars and could still reach the wearer’s thirsty lips.

Form follows function!

Not, as many doctrinaire Modernists thought, shape being dictated by the function of something. As if it were a kind of aesthetic predestination, incidentally a notion that the Protestant family Six could have approved of. After all, they fled from Catholic Wallonia to Reformed and strict Holland .

However, the assertion of ‘form follows function’ implies that forms may result in some way from the function of a thing to which the architect or the glassblower or the woodworker imposes a form he has invented.

The aesthetic prescription stems from the American architect Sullivan. Curiously enough, it is also interpreted by Dutch Wikipedia in the strict version, as ‘form which all by itself and as such follows from function’. But this is nonsense, as every artist knows from experience. The English Wiki version, however, is more precise, if not correct: ‘The principle here is that the shape of a building or an object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose’.

No picture of the champagne flute – however, the web offers nice images of a millstone collar.

As a separate ‘stone’:




And as the stone hanging heavily around someone’s neck:



Such a collar was of course the opposite of ‘functional’, unless you want to call ‘being cocky’ a function of the ruling class. Veblen, again like Sullivan an American, once wrote his seminal book on ‘the theory of the leisure class’.

Veblen’s main argument concerned the appearance of people who were bossing the rest of society. These rulers put on garments, with which they underlined the fact that they did not perform any dirty and ‘lower’ handiwork. Absurdly long white fumble cuffs, stark white shirts and, why not, such millstone collars.

Then, of course, one must be consistent. Thus it came about that someone developed the tall champagne glass for these wearers of the millstone collar. At least according to the tour leader in House Six. Certainly, from the mouth of this cute woman, a very plausible hypothesis.

Sierksma, Haarlem 3.11/16


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats. The reader, interested in my writings on aesthetics, literature, and sociology, may want to open, where various pieces are published.

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