Face Bead

Notice of Upcoming Content and Access Change

The Museum is working on the future of our online collections access. A new version will be available later in 2023. During this transition period, the current version of the Collections Browser may have reduced functionality and data may be not be updated. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. For any questions or concerns, please contact us.

What is AAT?

The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) (r) is a structured vocabulary for generic concepts related to art and architecture. It was developed by The Getty Research Institute to help research institutions become consistent in the terminology they use.Learn More

Object Name: 
Face Bead
Accession Number: 
Overall W: 1.5 cm, D: 1.5 cm, Th: 0.7 cm
Not on Display
99 BCE-99 CE
Web Description: 
The revitalization of the mosaic technique by Roman glassmakers led to the creation of one of the best-known types of mosaic beads: the face bead. The primary feature of these beads is the miniature human faces painstakingly rendered through the cold bundling of rods or the hot working of pre-made parts to form the visage, which was then stretched to make a cane that could produce, in sliced sections, identical faces. The typical face has dark eyebrows, a square nose, dark eyes, a brownish red mouth, and white skin. This facial design can be well dated to between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D., a relatively short production period. Some face beads display bare shoulders, and these usually include a necklace, allowing us to conclude that these are depictions of females, while the genders of those portrayed in other face beads cannot be determined. Face beads were produced in a spherical shape (e.g., 62.1.25), with more than one cane slice placed around the center of the bead on a wound matrix, or simply as an individual cane slice that was perforated. Another motif utilizing the mosaic technique was the checkerboard pattern (e.g., 72.1.10). This type has been found in inlays dating as early as the fourth century B.C., often from Egyptian contexts. Examples of the checkerboard pattern in mosaic beads are also dated to the eighth century A.D., suggesting that the motif was produced for an extended period. The bead shown here is a square slice of a cane that combines the checkerboard design and the female face, including the shoulders and a necklace. The face and background are slightly off-center against the checkerboard, which covers all four corners of the bead. The bead is complex and distinctive, a true masterpiece of the mosaic technique.
Kelekian, C. Dikran, Source
Primary Description: 
Opaque glass canes of light aquamarine, white, red and yellow, translucent canes of amethyst and blue, surface dulling, opaque red canes have devitrified to an amber; mosaic glass technique. Thick square bead pierced horizontally; central element consists of a translucent deep blue diamond surrounding a female bust; figure in opaque white, features outlined in amethyst including hair and necklace, lips in opaque red; central element surrounded by a checkerboard series of canes, first yellow, red, white, amethyst, light aquamarine, and finally canes of red and yellow to complete the corners of the bead.
Corning Museum of Glass 2013-05-18 through 2014-01-05
For 30,000 years, mankind has crafted beads from natural materials. With the discovery of glassmaking in the second millennium B.C., glass began to be used for this same purpose. Glass beads are universal. They have been produced throughout the 35 centuries of glass manufacturing, and by nearly every culture in the world. The glass beads and beaded objects on view in this exhibition are arranged thematically, comparing the manner in which diverse cultures have utilized beads, frequently for the same purposes, but sometimes for unique reasons. These themes explore how glass beads adorn the body and our possessions; how they convey messages about power and wealth, and identify the stages of human life; how they serve ritual purposes, as well as decorate clothing and objects used in rituals; and how they have been employed across the centuries as a means of exchange, both commercial and cultural. Through the centuries, beads have been made using a variety of processes. Understanding how beads were made has allowed scholars to follow the transmission of beads and beadmaking techniques across the globe. Across time and around the world, glass beads have become a common element of mankind. Through their manufacture and function, they are one of the strings that bind humanity together. “Life on a String” celebrates this common bond while also revealing the distinctiveness of different societies through their use of glass beads to celebrate their unique cultural heritage.
Designs in Miniature: The Story of Mosaic Glass
Corning Museum of Glass 1995-06-03 through 1995-10-22
Tracing Eye Beads Through Time (2013-03) illustrated, p. 25, fig. 9, bottom left; BIB# AI92488
Glass Beads: Selections from The Corning Museum of Glass (2013) illustrated, pp. 14-15, no. 6; BIB# 134720
Beads: 3,500 Years of Glass Beads (2013) illustrated, p. 9 (fig 6, middle right); BIB# AI93926
Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead (2013) illustrated, p. 8; BIB# AI94015
Mosaic Glass Face Beads: Their Significance in Northern Europe during the later Roman Empire (1985) illustrated, Volume II, p. 316, ill. fig. 3;
Pre-Roman and Early Roman Glass in The Corning Museum of Glass (1979) illustrated, p. 274, #822; BIB# 29547