Glass & Platinum

History of Blown glassware


The earliest evidence of glassblowing was found by Roman Ghirshman in Chogha Zanbil, where many glass bottles were found in the excavations of the 2nd millennium BC site. Later evidence comes from a collection of waste from a glass shop, including fragments of glass tubes, glass rods and tiny blown bottles, which was dumped in a mikvah, a ritual bath in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, dated from 37 to 4 BC.Some of the glass tubes recovered are fire-closed at one end and are partially inflated by blowing through the open end while still hot to form a small bottle; thus they are considered as a rudimentary form of blowpipe.

Hence, tube blowing not only represents the initial attempts of experimentation by glassworkers at blowing glass, it is also a revolutionary step that induced a change in conception and a deep understanding of glass.Such inventions swiftly eclipsed all other traditional methods, such as casting and core-forming, in working glass.

In the Roman Empire

Roman blown glass  from  (4th century AD)
A glassworks in England in 1858. During the Industrial Revolution, techniques for mass-produced glassware were improved.

Ennion for example, was among one of the most prominent glassworkers from Lebanon of the time. He was renowned for producing the multi-paneled mold-blown glass vessels that were complex in their shapes, arrangement and decorative motifs. The complexity of designs of these mold-blown glass vessels illustrated the sophistication of the glassworkers in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire. Mold-blown glass vessels manufactured by the workshops of Ennion and other contemporary glassworkers such as Jason, Nikon, Aristeas, and Meges, constitutes some of the earliest evidence of glassblowing found in the eastern territories.The invention of glassblowing coincided with the establishment of the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC, which enhanced the spread and dominance of this new technology.Glassblowing was greatly supported by the Roman government (although Roman citizens could not be "in trade", in particular under the reign of Augustus), and glass was being blown in many areas of the Roman world. On the eastern borders of the Empire, the first large glass workshops were set up by the Phoenicians in the birthplace of glassblowing in contemporary Lebanon and Israel as well as in the neighbouring province of Cyprus.

Eventually, the glassblowing technique reached Egypt and was described in a fragmentary poem printed on papyrus which was dated to 3rd century AD. The Roman hegemony over the Mediterranean areas resulted in the substitution of glassblowing for earlier Hellenistic casting, core-forming and mosaic fusion techniques. The earliest evidence of blowing in Hellenistic work consists of small blown bottles for perfume and oil retrieved from the glass workshops on the Greek island of Samothrace and at Corinth in mainland Greece which were dated to the 1st century AD.

Later, the Phoenician glassworkers exploited their glassblowing techniques and set up their workshops in the western territories of the Roman Empire, first in Italy by the middle of the 1st century AD. Rome, the heartland of the Empire, soon became a major glassblowing center, and more glassblowing workshops were subsequently established in other provinces of Italy, for exampleCampaniaMorgantina and Aquileia.A great variety of blown glass objects, ranging from unguentaria (toiletry containers for perfume) to cameo, from tableware to window glass, were produced.

From there, escaping craftsmen (who had been forbidden to travel) otherwise advanced to the rest of Europe by building their glassblowing workshops in the north of the Alps (which is now Switzerland), and then at sites in northern Europe in present-dayFrance and Belgium.

One of the most prolific glassblowing centers of the Roman period was established in Cologne on the river Rhine in Germany by late 1st century BC. Stone base molds and terracotta base molds were discovered from these Rhineland workshops, suggesting the adoption and the application of mold-blowing technique by the glassworkers.Besides, blown flagons and blown jars decorated with ribbing, as well as blown perfume bottles with letters CCAA or CCA which stand for Colonia Claudia Agrippiniensis, were produced from the Rhineland workshops.Remains of blown blue-green glass vessels, for examplebottles with a handle, collared bowls and indented beakers, were found in abundance from the local glass workshops at Poetovio and Celeia in Slovenia.

Surviving physical evidence, such as blowpipes and molds which are indicative of the presence of blowing, is fragmentary and limited. Pieces of clay blowpipes were retrieved from the late 1st century AD glass workshop at Avenches in Switzerland.Clay blowpipes, also known as mouthblowers, were made by the ancient glassworkers due to the accessibility and availability of the resources before the introduction of the metal blowpipes. Hollow iron rods, together with blown vessel fragments and glass waste dating to approximately 4th century AD, were recovered from the glass workshop in Mérida of Spain, as well as in Salonain Croatia.

Middle Ages

The glass blowing tradition was carried on in Europe from the medieval period through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in the demise of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. During the early medieval period, the Franks manipulated the technique of glassblowing by creating the simple corrugated molds and developing the claws decoration techniques.Blown glass objects, such as the drinking vessels that imitated the shape of the animal horn were produced in the Rhine and Meuse valleys, as well as in Belgium. The Byzantine glassworkers made mold-blown glass decorated with Christian and Jewish symbols inJerusalem between late 6th century and the middle of the 7th century AD.Mold-blown vessels with facets, relief and linear-cut decoration were discovered at Samarra in the Islamic Lands.

Renaissance Europe witnessed the revitalization of glass industry in Italy. Glassblowing, in particular the mold-blowing technique, was employed by the Venetian glassworkers from Murano to produce the fine glassware which is also known ascristallo.The technique of glassblowing, coupled with the cylinder and crown methods, was used to manufacture sheet or flat glass for window panes in the late 17th century.The applicability of glassblowing was so widespread that glass was being blown in many parts of the world, for example, in ChinaJapan and the Islamic Lands.

The Nøstetangen Museum at  , Norway shows how glass was made according to ancient tradition. The Nøstetangenglassworks had operated there from 1741 to 1777, producing table-glass and chandeliers in the German and English style.