Featured Objects from Reflecting Antiquity

Featured exhibition objects from Reflecting Antiquity: Modern Glass Inspired by Ancient Rome.

  • Artwork

    Iridescent Glass
    Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, lends her name to the word iridescence, a lustrous, rainbow-like play of color. Iridescence was admired by modern glassmakers but was not an intentional effect made by ancient artisans. The effect was found on pieces of ancient glass where burial conditions caused alkali (soluble salt) to leach from the glass and form layers that eventually separate and flake off. The remaining surface layers reflect light differently, resulting in an iridescent appearance.

    Iridizing, the process of creating intentional iridescence, was developed in Hungary in 1856 and allowed modern glassmakers to achieve the effect in their own work. Subsequent glassworkers mixed metallic substances into the glass before it was formed into a vessel. The shapes of iridescent vessels also evolved, and with the Art Nouveau movement, entirely new shapes of iridescent glassware were introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany and Emile Gallé.

    The closest parallels for this object are amphoras, but there is no trace of a second handle, and it may well have been a flagon. The use of a modern eyedropper to restore the base of the object was detected by radiography.

  • Artwork

    Cage Cups
    Rare and difficult to make, cage cups are among the most luxurious of ancient vessels. They have been discovered throughout the ancient world, from Afghanistan to North Africa to Belgium, with the majority from the Rhineland in Germany. Most have a network pattern of interlocking circles or ovals that are cut away from the inner wall of the vessel and are connected to it by cleverly concealed struts. Figural cage cups are especially rare, and the best-known example is the Lycurgus Cup, on view in this exhibition.

    The metal collar with the three perforated flanges indicates that this object was meant to be suspended. While the function of Roman hanging bowls can only be inferred, descriptions and illustrations in contemporary manuscripts show that similar objects served as lamps in the Byzantine period. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that this cage cup was a hanging lamp.

  • Artwork

    Blown and Mold-blown Glass
    This is a simplified copy of a beaker. The first known publication of the original object was in 1879, and imitations like this beaker may have been made shortly after that date.

  • Artwork
    The painting in gold and Schwarzlot (black lead), a sepia enamel that was first used on stained glass, was characteristic of the work of the Silesian artist Ignaz Preissler (1676–1741). This covered goblet is decorated with an imitation of Preissler’s style of painting.