1st- 2nd Century A.D
Monumental Olive-Green Glass ‘Lotus-Bud’ Beaker
With its rich, translucent yellow-green colour and exquisite decorative motif, this glass beaker is a truly fine example of glassworking from antiquity, exemplifying the Roman mastery of the craft. Six rows of eight graduated triple-tiered almond-shaped bosses in relief span the outside of the vessel, with two concentric wheel-incised circles and a horizontal rib forming the base. It was made using a mould blowing technique. The molten glass, made from a sand composite, would have been poured into moulds and fused into these intricate shapes, then left to cool before being removed and polished.
The vessel was made during the first century ad, during Augustus’s stabilization of the Empire, when glass production excelled. New Roman furnace innovations allowed exquisite objects to be made, the likes of which had never been seen before. Having been excavated in industrial, funerary, religious and domestic contexts, in blue, red, green and clear, and in a variety of shapes, adorned with figural, abstract and floral motifs and covered in writing, it is clear that glass exploded in popularity both as a functional material and as a decorative craft. Roman glass was also widely exported, as far as Afghanistan, India and even China.
The monumental size of this glass represents a serious undertaking by the artisan – creating something of this scale from such fragile material and with limited technologies was a defiant feat. This example is among the largest of its type, making it a rare survivor and certainly of museum quality. The technical difficulty of making this beaker signifies its great expense. It would have no doubt graced a fine Roman dining-table inside a superb villa during antiquity. When filled with wine, the colour, which is unusual for Roman glass and probably made by adding lead, would transform from a vibrant olive-green to a deep maroon, adding an element of theatre to its practical use. The maker of this vessel had a complex understanding of symmetry, proportion and colour.
A similar example of this type of glass beaker with almond droplets exists in the British Museum in London (1). Lacking the depth and clarity of colour, refinement of execution and monumental size of this example, it highlights the range of quality such glassware could feature, and illustrates the scarcity and value of this example. The similarity in design between the two suggests this was a particular type of beaker produced throughout the Empire that would have been a familiar sight in the households of the elite.
Ancient Glass: The Bomford Collection of Pre-Roman & Roman Glass, City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, 1976.
Antiquities sale, Sotheby’s, London, 14 July 1986, lot 64.
The Benzian Collection of Ancient and Islamic Glass, Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 1994, lot 9.
“A Magnificent Collection of Ancient Glass”, 2017.
David Aaron, 2017.
James Bomford (1896–1979) Collection, assembled between 1960-1978.
Acquired by Hans Benzian (1917-1998) at Sotheby’s, London, 14 July 1986.
Benzian Collection of Ancient and Islamic Glass, 1986-1994.
Sold at: “The Benzian Collection of Ancient and Islamic Glass”, Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 1994.
Private UK Collection.