This marvelous Roman period splashed glass flask is a delightful example of a style that was popular in the early principate. While glassmaking had existed for two millennia prior to the Romans, having been pioneered by other cultures of the Mediterranean, it was not until the late Roman Republic that glassblowing was discovered as a method of mass-producing glass, and would stand as Rome’s great contribution to the art. Glass production flourished under the reign of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, the method of glassblowing having been brought to Italy in this period. Originally, glass was a luxury item for the wealthy and this drove the industry to perfect more efficient and less expensive forms of mass-production. Glass blowing helped produce these conditions. The author Strabo wrote that by his time, a person could buy a glass cup for the cost of a copper coin. Nevertheless, there was always a demand for high quality glass and items like the present bowl exemplified the masterful techniques of the Romans in which a multitude of colors could be incorporated in a blown vessel.
This flask, with its bulbous base and long neck, flanked by two graceful handles and leading to a stout lip, displays a pastiche of colors, including blues, tans, and other earth-tones interspersed with white. It was probably produced using the techniques of rolling the parison in chips of glass, then marvering and reheating prior to inflating the vessel to its fullest size.
What sweet wines or perfumes may have graced the interior of this vessel, purchased by a paterfamilias, perhaps as a gift for the woman of the house, or brought as a gift by honored guests? The dedication and skill of the craftsmen that blew this glass vessel are contained in the frozen, splotches of color that comprise its walls and dazzle the eyes of the modern viewer, in much the same way that they must have bedazzled the Roman viewers as well.
Reference: David Whitehouse, Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, vol. 1. Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass, 1997. See items 361-365.