Identifying Glass Workshops

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, second, and third posts in this series.

Our understanding of how mold-blown glass was designed and manufactured is hampered by the lack of archaeological evidence from glass workshops that can be dated to the first century A.D. Very few fragments of glass molds have survived, and those that do often date to later periods. With little evidence from glass molds, therefore, archaeologists and art historians often look at the design of the glass vessels themselves to determine where they may have been made. Small design features such as the manner in which a handle is shaped and attached, how a rim is fashioned or a foot coiled on, all are clues that help us identify the products that may have been made within the same workshop.

Head Flask

Head Flask, Roman Empire, probably Eastern Mediterranean, 300-499. 59.1.150.

The Workshop of the Floating Handles
When objects are not signed or branded in any way, it can be difficult to determine which ones may have been manufactured in the same workshop. Glass scholars look to individual features, such the manner in which a handle or foot has been designed, to establish relationships between works whose appearances are otherwise diverse. One glass scholar identified vessels from a workshop based upon the manner in which their handles were added. Named the ‘Workshop of the Floating Handles’, these pieces are associated by the way the handle is attached at the rim of a vessel, then drawn down and flattened at the bottom. Remarkably, the base of the handle is intentionally unattached and ‘floats’ above the surface of the glass. In many instances, the delicate handles have broken off, so they are assigned to this workshop by comparing patterns to identical pieces in other collections with handles intact. Each of the vessels made in this workshop has a unique shape and design; if the flattened handles had not survived on some examples, this workshop might not have been identified.

An Eastern Workshop
A group of cobalt blue vessels can be linked to the same workshop by the design of their distinctive wishbone handles with pinched glass trails, and a foot formed by a thick coil of glass. Scholars believe that this workshop was located somewhere in the region of the eastern Mediterranean because the vessels were made during the 300’s A.D., a time when glass production was beginning to decline in the Western Roman Empire, but remained an important industry in the east.

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