Glass Fairy Show
12 October, 2010 the Sentry Hall of the Winter Palace held the opening of the exhibition of ancient glass ware. The exposition represents over 250 of the most valuable and interesting exhibit items from the Hermitage collection of the ancient glass, amounted to more than one thousand items. Many of them are presented to the general public for the first time.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of a remarkable scientist, the largest specialist in ancient glassmaking Nina Kunina, who studied the vast Hermitage collection of the ancient glass for many years.
Early ancient articles, the 6th-5th centuries B.C. were mostly presented with miniature bottles for fragrances and were made of opaque glass. The same glass was made in the Ancient Middle East – in Mesopotamia and Egypt – even in the 2nd thousand B.C. So-called core technique was also borrowed from there. It means the following: the core, a clay blank in the form of the future vessel, which was removed afterwards was put on a metal rod and straps of hot glass were rolled over the core. Joining, they created its walls, decorated with zigzag ornament from yellow, turquoise and white glass threads.
Imitation to forms of vessels from precious metals led to applying of molding technique in thevform in glassmaking. The cold molding by means of polishing and carving of ornament elements, decorating it, was turned into an exquisite work of art. The perfect illustration for this kind of glassmaking is a unique work of the master from Alexandria: a molded bowl (3rd-2nd centuries B.C.) with laced ornament from gold foil, placed between two layers of clear glass. One of the showcases of the exhibition is fully occupied with glass gems. Among them a gold ring with insertion of blue glass (middle of the 4th century B.C.), made in the same technique as the Alexandrian bowl stands out. It is decorated with double-sided image from the gold foil: on one side there is a sea monster, swimming in the midst of fish and dolphins, on the other side – two dancing barbarians in pointed hats and short chitons. The whole collection of faleras is exhibited here.
The rarest monuments of miniature sculpture are related to the highest achievements of the art of ancient glassmaking. The Hermitage is proud with one of them: a glass female head with 3.5 cm in height. Specialists attributed the head from blue glass as the portrait of Libya Empress, wife of Roman Emperor Augustus.
Over the period from 1st century B.C. to 1st century A.D. the mosaic technique experienced its flourishing. Demanding genuine virtuosity from the masters, borrowed by Venetian glass makers, having become famous afterwards, it allowed creating articles, imitating items from semi-precious stones, gem jade and agate, but exceeding them in diversity and intensity of color palette. Sometimes gold foil was used in decoration, added them special vibrancy.
In the middle of the 1st century B.C. the breakthrough in glassmaking took place. At that time in Syria the blowpipe was invented by means of which the glass blub, received from the hot blank, thanks to blowing of air into it, was turned into jugs, bottles, glasses and other dishware. With appearance of such tool it became possible to use the specific characteristic of glass to the fullest extent: its transparency, allowing sun rays go through.
Masters not just learned to create articles from the thinnest glass, so thin that in hands it seams almost weightless but to color it in pure and deep colors using oxides of different metals. Sometimes glass-blowers made play the contrast of the transparent background with the pattern, made with opaque enamel paints. The perfect example is the amphora, presented at the exhibition, from bright-green glass which surface is covered with painting: flower design from arms with vine leaves and ivy with birds, sitting on them. Combination of green, blue, yellow, red and white colors makes this exquisite by its proportions masterpiece, came from the workshop in North Italy especially picturesque.
Syrian workshops in the 1st centuries made their specialty out of blowing inside the form, negative sectional matrix from clay or stone. Such method allowed creating the whole series of similar vessels, different in color or details, developed by hands: crowns, legs, arms.
With introduction of free blowing technique which significantly simplified and hastened the production, glassmaking quickly speeded around the antique world. Although the main centers were located in Eastern Mediterranean it successfully developed in Italy and in western provinces of the Roman Empire – Gallia and Germany and in Northern Black Sea Region. At the exhibition, on a special map one can see places where the residues of the ancient glass-blowers’ workshops were discovered.
The last section of the exhibition (two showcases in the center) includes items from bronze, clay and silver. It shows how easily the ancient glass-makers applied a rich arsenal of forms, invented by Greek potters and torevts. Sometimes such borrowing took place right after appearance of some form among articles from clay or metal which was copied very precisely. Traditional forms, embodied in glass, often in miniature size, find their originality, simultaneously demonstrating common esthetic preferences in the creative work of the ancient masters of artistic crafts.
The Publishing House of the State Hermitage prepared a scientific catalogue to the exhibition.
Exhibition curators – Yelena Khodza, PhD in Art History, Head of Ancient Greece and Rome Section, Leading Researcher of the Ancient World Department of the State Hermitage and Nadezhda Zhizhina, PhD in History, Senior Researcher of the Ancient World Department of the State Hermitage.