I ceased posting to the website when it became clear – or so I thought – that the cornucopia of individual neuroses which had made the world such a colorful and interesting place had coagulated into one massive lump of deltiomania (an obsession with current events, from the Greek δελτίο, “bulletin”) – afflicting everyone (except myself, of course).
What interest could the Drapers Guild have in a world full of jittery tweeters and twitterers?
Then, out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago I received the following e-mail:
I can find very little information online about the order to which you presumably belong. I know the order definitely has been linked to the Freemasons, though I'm not sure if it still is. Please can you refer me to some reading material or tell me yourself what the guild is all about.
Hallelujah! Evidently, some curious people still exist (“curious” in both senses of the word).
Here is my reply:
Dear W--- B---,
Thank you for your e-mail and for your interest in the Drapers Guild. And – sorry for my delay in responding.
You are quite right. The Drapers Guild is a Masonic offshoot. It was founded in 1660 by a group of dissenting Dutch Freemasons during what Masonic history refers to as the “Amsterdam Schism.”
It all began when a dispute arose in the Amsterdam’s “La Vertu” Lodge over the correct proportions of the Masonic Apron. Lead by Master Elect of Nine, Hoop Zwartgat, a group of lodge members called for the replacement of the lodge’s aprons with aprons whose proportions conformed to the Golden Ratio, 1:1.618. The movement quickly spread to the other lodges in Amsterdam, as well as lodges in Leiden and Utrecht.
Because, as one Sovereign Commander of the Temple put it, they threatened, “to take their scissors to the fabric of Freemasonry,” Zwartgat and his followers became known – derisively – as “The Drapers Guild.” When, in 1660, they were expelled from Freemasonry en masse, the dissenters retained the name as a badge of honor.
The basic tenet of the Drapers Guild, articulated by Hoop Zwartgat when he first called for the re-design of the Masonic Apron, is: only form is real.
According to Zwartgat, perception is binary: at the same time that we perceive a form, we also intuit its content, its meaning. However, a form’s content is nothing but a mental phantasm. We of the Drapers Guild believe that all the errors of the world arise from the distortion of reality by ascribing content to it.
Perhaps some analogies will help clarify Zwargat’s concept. By “content” is meant such things as: the feelings and images evoked by the words “summer’s day” in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18; the economic benefits of the McCormack Reaper; a cubist painting’s deliberate skewing of form; the swiftness of broadband. To a Drapers Guild syndic, all that is real about these disparate things are, respectively: two English words; machinery of a particular design; forms and colors applied to a monochrome surface; a series of electronically generated 0’s and 1’s.
The sentiments of a reader of Shakespeare’s sonnets, the budgetary calculations of a 19th century grain farmer, a museum-goer’s appreciation of Braque’s optical disarrangement, a screendweller’s satisfaction with a seemingly instantaneous connection to the internet – these are purely mental activities. Call them feelings, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, whatever, their only connection to reality is psychological – that is, it is tenuous, transitory and unreliable.
Yet it is on such tenuous, transitory and unreliable thoughts – often complacently elevated to the level of “truth” – that our culture, our civilization, is based. Is it any wonder then, that human interactions have been, and still are, nothing but misunderstandings, disagreement and antagonism, too often leading to anger, hatred and violence?
The Drapers Guild
P. S.: A note on Rembrandt and the Drapers Guild –
Bernard Berenson, in a letter of 1921 to Eugen Jan Boissevain (who soon would become the husband of Edna St. Vincent Millay) mentioned a recent discovery in the town archives of Giethoorn. The archive contained the entire output of the printing firm of Jacob Zetter, whose workshop, active in the mid-17th century, abutted Giethoorn Town Hall. One of Zetter’s publications was a pamphlet claiming that the six figures represented in Rembrandt’s painting, De Staalmeesters (The Sampling Officials), actually were Hoop Zwartgat and five other dissenting Freemasons. Unfortunately, Berenson does not include any particulars about the pamphlet, other than saying that “a young friend” had sent him an “electrophotograph” of it.
According to Berenson, the pamphlet suggests that the group of sampling officials who commissioned the painting remained oblivious to Rembrandt’s deception because (Berenson quotes the pamphlet’s Dutch) “volk zien wat volk willen zien” (“People see what they want to see”). Although Berenson does not name the pamphlet’s author, we can assume that he or she was a syndic of the Drapers Guild. “Volk zien wat volk willen zien” is the most well-known of Hoop Zwargat’s aphorisms (collected and published in a limited edition after his death).
Interestingly, in an unpublished essay, probably written after his receipt of the “electrophotograph” of the mysterious pamphlet, Berenson outlined how Rembrandt’s painting, originally known as De Staalmeesters, acquired the alternate appellation of The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild.
During the rancorous Amsterdam Schism, after Zwartgat and his followers had been expelled and had become the Drapers Guild, Masonic screeds of the time often referred to them as “de cynici van het Drapersgilde” (“the cynics of the Drapers Guild”). 19th century art historians, misunderstanding and mistranslating the Dutch obloquy, began to refer to Rembrandt’s painting as The Syndics of the Drapers Guild. (Le Syndic de la guilde des drapiers in France; Los síndicos de los pañeros in Spain; Sei sindaci dei drappieri di Amsterdam in Italy).