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Work Flacon with two tubular compartments

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

Flacon with two tubular compartments

© Musée du Louvre

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

In the fourth and fifth centuries AD, craftsmen in the Near East excelled in the making of kohl flacons in pottery, wood, reed, or glass - as here -using the blowing technique. Thin streaks of glass were applied to the container in spirals and zigzags. With one or more compartments, these recipients were sometimes accompanied by small bronze, ivory, or glass wands to apply makeup to the eyes.

Near Eastern, fourth or fifth century AD

Although the place in which it was made cannot be determined precisely, this clear glass flacon was probably produced in the Near East in the fourth or fifth century AD. It was either made in a workshop in Syria, where it was found, or in Palestine, then an important center for the production and distribution of glassware. With its two tubular compartments, this small recipient is a toiletry item that was particularly widespread in the eastern Roman Empire and produced in large quantities until the Islamic period.

A kohl flacon

It was made to hold kohl, a dark powder used by women - and also by men - as eye makeup and for the medicinal properties of the lead sulfide it contained. Kohl was used as medicine in antiquity. It was used for its astringent properties to treat eye inflammations and infections caused by insects, which were common afflictions in Egypt and the Near East. Kohl flacons were made using a great variety of materials such as pottery, wood, and reed. The Palestinians had a taste for glass containers of this kind. The recipients have from one to four compartments and are generally accompanied by a small bronze, glass, or ivory wand that was used to apply kohl to the eyelids and eyelashes.

Glassblowing technique

The flacon was made using blowing and a shaping technique developed circa 50 BC by glassmakers in the eastern Mediterranean region. The technique is still used today. It consists of picking up a small blob of molten glass, the gob, on the end of a blowing iron about a meter long, blowing into the tube to make a bubble of glass and then rolling it on a slab called a marver to shape it as required using various tools. The decoration was applied after a period of slow cooling; thin dribbles of glass were applied to the neck and belly of the container, forming zigzags and spirals.

Bibliography

Arveiller V., "Le verre soufflé romain", Feuillet pédagogique du Musée du Louvre, 3, n 29, Paris, 1998.

Technical description

  • Flacon with two tubular compartments

    Fourth or fifth century AD

    Syria

  • Blown glass with applied decoration

    H. 12.2 cm; L. 4.3 cm

  • Purchased 1894

    MNC 1826

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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