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Work Amphoriskos with spherical body

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

Amphorisque à panse sphérique

© RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

The 3rd and 4th centuries were prosperous times for glassmakers on the Syro-Palestinian coast, as evidenced by the numerous findings of funerary material. Production was plentiful, with a variety of forms. The development of new technical processes, both in shaping and decoration, also reflects the dynamic nature of this activity.

Oriental production from the 4th century AD

In the 4th century, Syro-Palestinian workshops produced wares characterized by a return to bright hues, in contrast with the colorless glass that had prevailed until the 3rd century, particularly for luxury tableware. Yellow, brown or green glass enjoyed frequent use; dark blue or purple glass was employed to a lesser extent. This taste for different colors is reflected in the development of numerous innovative decorative techniques that often entailed interplays of chromatic opposition. Certain parts of a vessel—the handles and other decorative elements in particular—may be executed in a different color to that used for the body of the vase so as to create an aesthetic polychrome effect.
A further hallmark of this production is the manufacture of vases similar in type but very variable in size. This sometimes makes it difficult to classify them by function as items of tableware or as smaller containers used for toiletries.

Amphoriskos with spherical body

The flask Is called an amphoriskos due to its shape, which is reminiscent of an amphora but smaller. This is why it is classified as a toilet-related item. It consists of a spherical body, a long cylindrical neck, and two handles. The body was made using the technique of free blowing, with greenish-colored glass. The handles and the decoration are crafted from blue-green glass. The decoration is made using trails of glass applied in a spiral or zigzag pattern on the neck and body. This decorative “twisted thread” technique is characteristic of Oriental workshops, even if there exist some examples in workshops in Rhineland and possibly Italy, in the western reaches of the Empire.

The technique of free blowing

Among the various techniques developed by glassmakers on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, free blowing appeared in the second half of the 1st century BC. A small amount of molten glass (the “gather”) is placed at the tip of a hollow metal pipe, about one meter in length. The glassmaker blows in the pipe to form a glass bubble. The gather is then rolled over a flat surface (the “marver”) and worked using various tools to give it the desired shape. The decoration and handles are applied in hot molten glass at the end of the manufacturing process. The piece is then placed in the annealing lehr, a kiln where it is left to cool slowly.

Bibliography

V. ARVEILLER, M.-D. NENNA, Les verres antiques du Musée du Louvre, II, ed. Somogy éditions d’art-Musée du Louvre éditions, Paris, 2005

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