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Byzantine Silver Stain: Another Example?

All About Glass

In last year's Journal of Glass Studies [Vol. 42], Mark T. Wypyski and the present authors described a fragmentary vessel decorated with silver stain, and concluded that it is Byzantine and of about the 10th century.1 We compared the fragment with the celebrated bowl with painted ornament in the Treasury of San Marco in Venice. Specifically, both the fragment and the bowl have figural ornament that recalls the art of the Roman world, a solid applied foot-ring, and a small circular pontil mark with little excess glass.

Copy of the San Marco BowlThe San Marco bowl is decorated on the outside of the wall with medallions containing figures from classical mythology and secular life, roundels containing human heads, and arabesques. The borders of the medallions are filled with rosettes. The outside of the rim is decorated with similar rosettes and arabesques. On the inside of the rim and the bottom of the wall are bands of ornament imitating Arabic written in the kufic script. This juxtaposition of classical figures and pseudo-kufic "inscriptions" puzzled earlier generations of scholars. It has been explained, however, as a combination of two elements that occur in the art of the Macedonian Renaissance: imitations of the antique and imitations of Arabic inscriptions. Today, most scholars believe that the bowl was made in or about the 10th century, perhaps at Constantinople.2

It is abundantly clear that the figures and the ornament surrounding them are painted in a combination of opaque enamels and liquid gilding. Few published accounts of the bowl refer to the medium used for the inscriptions, although André Grabar and Anthony Cutler described it as gilding.3

During a recent visit to Venice, Lisa Pilosi examined the bowl (in its vitrine) and observed that the inscriptions have the following characteristics. Their somewhat mottled color varies from bright greenish yellow to dull brown. They do not appear to be raised above the surface of the glass, as are the enameled and gilded areas. Indeed, the inscription on the neck continues unchanged over the inner surface of a large broken bubble, without filling the cavity (as one might expect if the inscription were enameled).4 There are no apparent losses.

The inscriptions, therefore, are quite unlike the gilding on the wall and the outside of the neck, which has a uniform golden hue and has suffered minor losses through abrasion. They are also quite unlike the enamels, which are also uniform in color. Indeed, the visual characteristics of the inscriptions lead us to suggest that they are silver stain similar to the stain on the fragment mentioned above. If this is so, the bowl provides additional proof that glassworkers in the Byzantine Empire were familiar with silver stain in or about the 10th century.

David Whitehouse, The Corning Museum of Glass
Lisa Pilosi, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This article was published in the Journal of Glass Studies, Vol. 43 (2001), 180–181.

1. David Whitehouse, Lisa Pilosi, and Mark T. Wypyski, "Byzantine Silver Stain," Journal of Glass Studies, v. 42, 2000, pp. 85–96.

2. See, for example, Anthony Cutler, "The Mythological Bowl in the Treasury of San Marco at Venice," in Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, ed. Dickran K. Kouymjian, Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1974, pp. 235–254 (perhaps mid-10th century); and Katharine R. Brown, "Gilded and Painted Glass Bowl," in The Treasury of San Marco, Venice, ed. David Buckton, Milan: Olivetti, 1984, pp. 180–183, no. 21 (probably 10th century).

3. A. Grabar, "Vaso di vetro dipinto," in Il tesoro di San Marco, v. 2, Il tesoro e il museo, ed. H. R. Hahn loser, Florence: Sansoni, 1971 , pp. 77–78, no. 83 ; Cutler [note 2], p. 235, n.

4. On the replica of the bowl, made by the Venice and Murano Glass Company Ltd. about 1878 and now in The Coming Museum of Glass (acc. no. 59.3.36), the inscriptions are rendered in white enamel.

Published on April 2, 2013