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Roman Glass Grape Flask
New York | Vessels
Date:  1st Century AD
Culture:  Roman
Category:  Vessels
Medium:  Glass
Dimension: H: 7.7 cm
Provenance: Ex-European private collection
Serial No: 15610

The quality of this small vessel is derived from its perfect state of preservation and beautiful opaque blue color which reminds a natural stone. This was probably the glass maker’s intention as he did not utilize the natural property of the medium, transparency. Rather he made a completely nontransparent surface, creating the illusion that the object was carved from stone. Glass making technique in antiquity originated in the second millennium B. C. in Egypt and Mesopotamia and progressed from core-molding to mold-pressing and glass-cutting, subsequently to free-blowing and mold-blowing. This vessel was made in the mold-blown technique which required the use of a wood or a terracotta mold of two or more parts; in this case two symmetrical halves of the desired finished shape have been used. Once made from the molds, the halves were assembled together; the seam is clearly visible on the bottom and on the sides of the flask. Although very similar, the parts are not identical, giving the piece a natural, organic appearance.

The multiple granules of slightly different size in the relief create a cluster of grapes which is precisely a three-lobed bunch. This became the most popular pattern among all other shapes. Joined together the sides represent a rather narrow wine leaf with thin scrolls. Closer to the bottom there are several crossed diagonal lines which probably imitate the fence of the vineyard. The neck was blown separately (note the thin veins that indicate the flow of molten glass during the procedure) and was immediately affixed to the body. Tiny holes on the rim show the presence of the air bubbles inside the glass mass; such slight imperfections make this ancient object even more interesting and attractive.

The mold-blowing technique which spread throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st century A.D. made glass vessels available in large quantities and diverse shapes to be used as everyday and luxurious tableware, cosmetic or pharmaceutical containers. Although small in size, the shape of this vessel is well-proportioned. It includes a low plain base, much higher and wider body and a narrow neck which terminates in the pronounced rim. Each element of the composition serves for better functioning of the vessel: the body contains a certain amount of liquid (presumably that was the perfumed oil), the neck facilitates its flow, and the rim controls its dosage and usage.

The use of multiple colors and molds of different shapes established an especially high level of craftsmanship in Roman glass, now so praised by scholars and connoisseurs. The blue colored flask employing the grape motif and shape provides a perfect illustration of this superior craftsmanship.