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Work Alabastron

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)


© Musée du Louvre

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This alabastron, a small vessel of oblong form, was made to hold perfumed oils. It was produced by winding threads of semi-molten glass around a clay core, the decoration being obtained by working a thread of violet glass into a zigzag pattern. Developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt in the second millennium BC, the core molding technique became very popular throughout the Mediterranean world in the late sixth century BC, on the island of Rhodes in particular.

A Small Perfume Bottle

A small flask of oblong form, which owes its name to similar vessels made of alabaster, this alabastron was intended to hold perfumed oils. Around the mouth is a lip in the form of a flattened disk, which helped apply the liquid with minimum spillage. The belly of opaque white glass is decorated with a spiral of violet glass, worked into a zigzag in the middle section. The handles are in the form of stylized dolphins; applied after the decoration, they are pierced to allow the object to be hung on a fine chain. A stopper of perishable material (cork wrapped in cloth?) was probably used to seal the container. Widely present in the Greek world, perfume bottles of this type have often been found in graveyards and sanctuaries, some forming part of the funerary articles accompanying the deceased, while others were offered to divinities.

The Core Molding Technique

This vessel was produced between the late sixth and fifth century BC by a technique known as core molding, a process that appeared in Mesopotamia and in Egypt in the second half of the second millennium BC, before spreading through most of the Mediterranean world. A core is made of clay mixed with sand, to which have been added organic materials such as straw, grass, leaves or seeds. This core is mounted on a metal rod, and the glassmaker wraps it in hot semi-molten glass drawn into a thread. The glassware thus produced is decorated by the addition of glass threads of different colors, which are formed into zigzags, as here, or into garlands. Once the glass is cool, the clay core is discarded.

Rhodes: an Important Center of Production

In the late sixth century BC there was a marked increase in the production of glass by this method in the Eastern Mediterranean. The island of Rhodes, where the Louvre's alabastron was found, seems to have been home to one or more glassmakers' workshops during this time: production waste has been found identifying it as an important center of glass production at the end of the archaic and throughout the classical periods. Glass from Rhodes is relatively impure, being sometimes opaque and sometimes mildly translucent. There is no evidence, however, to indicate the place of manufacture of this little vessel.


V. Arveiller-Dulong, M.-D. Nenna, Les verres antiques, t. 1, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000, n 5, p. 38

Technical description

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