A Common Language of Design

This post comes from Dr. Karol B. Wight, President and Executive Director of The Corning Museum of Glass. Ennion and His Legacy: Mold-Blown Glass from Ancient Rome, the largest exhibition to date devoted to ancient mold-blown glass, is on view until January 4, 2016. Read more about Ennion in Dr. Wight’s first post in this series.

Ewer made byEnnion

Ewer. Ennion. Probably Syria; Possibly Palestine, 25-75. 59.1.76.

When designing his glassware, Ennion was inspired by decorations and patterns from a number of sources, including architecture. The honeycomb pattern seen on Ennion’s jugs and cups, for example, may have been derived from a type of Roman brickwork known as opus reticulatum, a construction technique that was introduced in the first century B.C. The refined decorative patterns in Ennion’s mold designs demonstrate a high level of creativity, elegance, and innovation. This same level of refinement is not found on other glass vessels, and scholars have used the quality of the design to determine whether an unsigned work may have been made in Ennion’s workshop.

The design vocabulary that Ennion used was also employed by artists working in other media, including metalware and pottery. The use of similar patterns in different media illustrates the fact that certain motifs, such as rosettes and ivy tendrils or garlands, are easily adapted to a variety of vessel shapes. What works well on clay or silver can also work well on glass.


Ennion’s name appears on three basic shapes, including jugs. A rectangular frame (called a tabula ansata) is prominently placed within a honeycomb-patterned band. It bears the Greek inscription “ENNIWN EПOIEI” (Ennion made it). Only one of Ennion’s jugs still retains its original foot, which is preserved on a jug in the collection of the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.


Cup, Ennion, Syria, Northern Italy, Palestine, 1-50. 66.1.36.

Ennion designed a variety of drinking cups. While most have one or two handles, one subset has no handles. All are inscribed with Ennion’s name, and many bear a second inscription on the back, “MNHΘH O AΓOPAZWN” (May the buyer be remembered).


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917, 17.194.226

Flat-Bottomed Jugs
In addition to making jugs with elegant pedestal feet, Ennion also designed flat-bottomed jugs. They serve to exemplify how Ennion modified the shapes of his wares, even when using the same design. Like the footed jugs, the flat-bottomed jugs are decorated with the tabula ansata that bears Ennion’s signature.

Flat-Bottomed Jug

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1881, 81.10.224

Large Flasks
While a number of Ennion’s cups and jugs have survived from antiquity, only two of his flasks are known. The hexagonal shape of Ennion’s flask is similar to smaller perfume bottles. It is unlikely that a vessel of this size actually held perfume. The six-paneled shape offered the moldmaker a generous surface on which to create his designs, and each of the panels contains a different motif. All are associated with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and so the flask may have been used to hold wine. The flask is inscribed “ENNIWN EПWHCEN” (Ennion made it).


Pitcher, Roman Empire, possibly Palestine, probably Syria, 1-50. 65.1.2.

Unsigned Vessels of Similar Shape and Design
Some unsigned jugs have decoration similar to Ennion’s signed pieces, but only a few have been assigned to Ennion’s workshop because their decoration parallels other signed works

Ennion’s Competition
In addition to Ennion, we know of four artisans who signed their works by designing their molds in a similar way: Aristeas, Jason, Meges, and Neikais.

Aristeas was a somewhat common Greek name in the eastern Mediterranean, but little is known about the individual who signed his glass with this name. Of all the glassworkers who signed mold-blown vessels at this time, however, Aristeas is the one whose products most closely resemble Ennion’s. In fact, the similarities are so striking that it is tempting to believe that these two craftsmen worked together. Only two intact vessels signed by Aristeas have survived from antiquity. One is the only example of Aristeas’s work found in Italy, from a site near Pavia. It is inscribed with the name of its maker, followed by a verb form meaning “made by”: “APICTEAC EПOIEI” (Aristeas made it). Surrounding the inscribed tabula ansata are three pairs of floral sprays, one of which resembles vine stems and leaves On the second known cup by Aristeas, the artist identifies himself as a Cypriot, from the island of Cyprus.

All the beakers made by Jason, Meges, and Neikais share the same sparse, minimal, decoration. The design is dominated by a pair of inscriptions that appear in broad bands on the sides of the cups. The inscriptions are separated by stylized vertical palm leaves that also conceal the seams of the glass molds. Jason and Meges are common Greek male names, but Neikais is a rare variant of Nikias or Nikaios, a name that was given to girls as well as to boys. All three of these artisans, however, were probably men who manufactured glass during the same period. Their wares have been found only in eastern Mediterranean locations, which suggests that their wares were not distributed as broadly as Ennion’s and were made for a local market.

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