GLASS FACTS by Glass & Art

GLASS FACTS by Glass & Art

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Early Romans

Following the Macedonians and Greeks, the Romans first worked to further perfecting techniques like core-forming, bowl pressing and casting. Millefiori (at the time known as mosaic beads) were invented. Millefiori, literally "thousand flowers", are small sections of multicoloured canes which are used to decorate glassware, e.g. in pressed glass techniques. Also the canes of twisted glass (vetro a retorti or - in English - twisters) became more elaborate and were used to decorate bowls and vessels. During the first centuries of the Roman empire, "gold glass", a way of fusing gold leave on the surface, was invented. It gave the already luxurious material even more status.

The right film below shows some beautiful examples from this early period. It also shows the next step: glass blowing!

Roman, probably from Italy, Striped Bowl. Mosaic (ribbon) glass technique, cast.
Late 1st century BC. Toledo Museum of Art, OH, USA. Photo: Toledo Museum

The Milan cage cup, 4th century. Museo Archeologico di Milano.

Blowing Romans

But the main breakthrough was of course the invention of glassblowing in the first century BC. Not rarely, you hear people say that the Romans were the first to blow glass, but nowadays most archaeologists believe that the Syrians invented this technique. Anyhow, the Romans were superb glassblowers,

The step from core-forming to glassblowing was not taken at once. First, glass artists started to pull tubes from an iron rod which was dipped in the molten glass. these tubes were closed at one side, and like lampworkers or flameworkers nowadays, they blew small vessels out of these tubes. With this technology, for the first time it became possible to make fully transparent, thought still one quite small, vessels for oils, make-up, medicine, and the like.

Soon after people found out that glass tubes could be blown, they came up with the idea to blow glass from a metal blow pipe, With this new technique people were able to create different and larger glassware such as , bowls, glasses, bottles, and even glass panels: finally they could close the windows! The left film below shows some outstanding examples that are on display at the Corning Museum, NY, USA.

The Romans were also able to make all colours, including transparent yellows, purples and reds. Their glass was more transparent then the glass of their predecessors. Blown glass was produced all over the Roman empire (and beyond), and is found in all shapes and sizes. Blowing in molds was done to create vessels in for instance shapes of Gods, fishes, helmets, figurines and faces. Cut decoration of facets and deep-cut circles was also known. Basically, all non-industrial glass blowing techniques that currently exist, were practised in the times of the Roman Empire.

The glass blowing techniques developed in this time were not surpassed until the industrial revolution of glass blowing (1820-1840) and even nowadays, there is for instance still debate about how the so-called cage-cups are made (casted or grinded, see photo).