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