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Work Bowl with painted decoration

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Bowl with painted decoration

© 2001 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Glassblowing was discovered circa 50 BC and constituted a veritable technological revolution in the history of glassware, particularly for tableware. With its emerald green colour, this bowl bears witness to the Roman passion for colored glass. The bowl was made in the first century AD and found in Nîmes, and despite the deterioration of the enamel, it has an exceptional decorative scheme, illustrating a battle between pygmies and cranes.

Blown-glass tableware

This emerald green bowl was discovered in Nîmes, in the south of France, but was probably produced in northern Italy in the first century AD. It was produced using the glassblowing technique perfected by Roman glassworkers in the eastern Mediterranean region circa 50 BC. The technique is identical to that used today. It consists of gathering a small quantity of glass (the gob) at the end of a metal pipe about one meter in length (the blowing iron) and then blowing down the pipe so that the gob of glass inflates. The gob is then rolled on a flat surface (the marver) and worked with various tools to obtain the desired shape. The technique spread to all the provinces of the Roman Empire and was instrumental in the popularity of glass tableware in the first century AD. Glassware then became extremely popular, and all the more so because glassblowing is a cheap, rapid process that makes it possible to produce series of bowls, goblets, bottles, dishes, and plates for everyday use.

Enamel decoration

The outer surfaces of this bowl feature a polychrome decoration, of which there remain only a few orange-pink traces of the figures, and some yellow and ocher traces of their weapons and the birds' feet. Over large areas of the work, the colors have disappeared, leaving frosted patches. As a result of this, it was thought for a long time that decoration was etched onto the glass before it was painted. In fact, the decorative elements were produced by applying enamel, probably with a brush, directly onto the glass, which was then heated a second time to fix the colours. This is an especially delicate operation, as the vessel risks becoming deformed.

Battling pygmies and cranes

The decorative scheme depicts two pygmies battling against three cranes in a marsh. Vegatation is suggested by small branches arranged at ground level between the combatants. Although the subject was often depicted in antiquity, especially on Greek vases, there is no known parallel for the scene on this bowl. The pygmies, wearing helmets and armed with lances and shields, rush in front of the birds who, wings spread, defend themselves with their beaks.

Bibliography

Foy D, Nenna M.-D., Tout feu, tout sable. Mille ans de verre antique dans le Midi de la France, Musée d'histoire de Marseille, 2001, n 108, p. 91.
Arveiller V., "Le verre soufflé romain", Feuillet pédagogique du Musée du Louvre, 3, n 29, Paris, 1998.
Rütti B., Early enamelled Glass, 1991, p. 122-136.

Technical description

  • Bowl with painted decoration

    First century AD

    Nîmes, Gard, France

  • Blown glass, painted decoration

    H. 6.5 cm; Diam. 8 cm

  • Gift of Pelet, 1858

    S 2473

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Antique glassware room
    Room 34

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