This blog post comes from Karol Wight, president and executive director at The Corning Museum of Glass.
In 2015, the Kress Foundation and the Association of Art Museum Directors, in collaboration with the American Academy in Rome, began to offer an Affiliated Fellowship at the American Academy for a museum director (and member of AAMD) to spend one month in Rome pursuing a research topic. The fellowship was meant to enable a director to step away from their day-to-day duties and take a deep dive into scholarship. I was fortunate to be the second recipient of this Affiliated Fellowship, and spent this past February in Rome, undertaking my research project.
My project focused on the topic of ancient Roman cameo glass and how it was manufactured. There is ongoing debate in the world of ancient glass studies as to how the blanks for cameo carved objects were manufactured in antiquity. And while various modern experiments to recreate these types of pieces have been undertaken by a number of artists and scholars, there is no real consensus as to which techniques were more likely to have been used in antiquity. My current theory is that more than one technique may have been used, depending upon the object being manufactured (a flat object, an open vessel, or a closed vessel).
One of my primary aims in studying ancient Roman cameo glass during this fellowship is to create a visual database of existing works that are not well published or photographed in detail. By creating a visual database, one can turn to surviving evidence preserved in or on the glass to try and answer the many questions raised by the various modern glassmaking attempts.
Being able to conduct this research in Italy gave me the opportunity to spend time examining Roman cameo glass collections in Rome (the Evan Gorga Collection at the Palazzo Altemps), in Naples and Pompeii (at the National Archaeological Museum and at the Antiquarium), in Florence (at the National Archaeological Museum), and at the Vatican Museums. I was also able to visit numerous other museums in Rome to see additional works of cameo glass on public view. As I visited various museum collections, I used macro-photography to record evidence of manufacturing, both in the matrix of the glass itself (such as bubbles), and in the form of tool marks on the surface of the glass. And finally, I spent time using the Academy’s amazing library to consult various historical volumes on ancient glass collections, as well as current museum catalogues.
By the time my fellowship ended, I had taken 1,040 images of cameo glass. I began to create a database that includes my photographs, as well as my written observations about the works. This database is something that will remain a work in progress as I find time to add my comments and images, and will grow as I am able to take additional study trips to add cameo glass works beyond Italy, including those in the collection of CMoG.
I am thankful to the Academy, the Kress Foundation and AAMD for making such an opportunity possible.