27 June 2014

Blown Glass: From Sand to Craft

Today, the glass blowing technique is at the height of its powers for artistic and much experimental purposes. But it hasn’t always been about the art. Historically, it was the increase in shapes and in designs that the invention of glassblowing made possible which contributed to this method of glass forming becoming pre eminent. Soon after, the mold-blowing process developed as an offshoot of free-blowing and was used as an alternate method.

As a novel glass forming technique created in the middle of the last century BC, glassblowing exploited inflation as a working property of glass. Inflation refers to the expansion of a molten blob of glass by introducing a small amount of air to it. Glass blowing involves three furnaces with the transformation of raw materials into glass at about 1,320 °C in the first stage and the transformation of glass from a pale white to bright orange. The glassblower would manipulate molten glass while still malleable and create patterns, handles, or flanges.

A pair of Islamic pale green glass bottles, 2nd century AD offered by Armin Antiques

A selection of Islamic and pre-Islamic glass offered by Antique Choices
There’s evidence that glass vessels have been produced in Egypt and Mesopotamia since the fifteenth century but their introduction into Europe didn’t happen until the 5th century B.C. By the time of the Roman Republic, glass is used widely in the Italian peninsula as table ware, and as vessels of all shapes and sizes containing oils, food, medicine and perfume. We don’t know why this is the case but it’s suggested that the Roman glass production came from almost nothing to become a complex and highly developed industry. Core-formed glass dominated the Greek world but blown glass came to dominate Roman glass production and Roman military and political expansion carried the glass production and distribution with it. At the height of its popularity in Rome, glass was present in every aspect of daily life and glass was being blown in many areas of the Roman Empire.

During the first centuries of Islamic rule, glassmakers in the Eastern Mediterranean continued to use the Roman recipe consisting of calcium-rich sand and minerals from Egypt. And in fact, Islamic glass did not begin to develop a recognizable expression until the late 8th, despite the wide spread of Islam across the Middle East and North Africa with the Eastern Mediterranean remaining a centre of glass production. The Roman and Mesopotamian glassmaking industries continued in much the same way they had for centuries earlier. But following the unification of the entire region, the interaction of ideas and techniques was facilitated, allowing for the fusion of these two separate traditions with new ideas and the creation of a distinct Islamic glass industry.

Islamic glass jug, 12th century offered by Bakhtar Art
Roman pale blue green glass vessel offered by Armin Antiques
Pre-Islamic glass offered by Antique Choices
The Crusades made the European discovery of Islamic gilded and enamelled vessels possible and on an unprecedented scale. During the Renaissance, Bohemia, part of modern day Czech Republic, became famous for its beautiful and colourful glass. With an abundance of natural resources found in the countryside, Bohemia turned out expert craftsmen who made Bohemian glass famous for its excellent cut and engraving.

Indeed Bohemian glassware became as prestigious as jewellery and was sought-after by the wealthy and the aristocracy of the time. Hand-cut, engraved, blown and painted decorative glassware ranging from champagne flutes accompanying dinner sets to enormous chandeliers adorning palaces, complex ornaments and figurines gave glass production anew dimension.

The fascination with glass is ever present and evolving as it allows for innovation and stylistic expression for the glass blower by turning technology into something close to magic.

Islamic glass bottle offered by Bakhtar Art
Roman glass bottle offered by Bakhtar Art
Roman pale blue green juglet offered by Armin Antiques
Roman glass, offered by Bakhtar Art

Bohemian tankard, offered by Mousa Antiques
Bohemian centre-piece, c1870-1880, offered by Mousa Antiques
Bohemian decanter, c1880, offered by Mousa Antiques

Pair of port or sherry glasses, Georgian, c1800, offered by Jack Podlewski
Bohemian vase, c1870-1880, offered by Mousa Antiques

Pair of Bohemian vases, offered by Mousa Antiques

Wine glass jug (sold as a pair), c1850, offered by Jack Podlewski
Bohemian goblet with lid, c1900, offered by Mousa Antiques
Glass vase, offered by Jack Podlewski
For more information visit www.graysantiques.com
Written by Titika Malkogeorgou

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