Throughout antiquity, especially before the invention of glass-blowing in the first century BCE, molten glass was molded and chased into vessels and sculptures. These served the elite home as low-cost substitutes for more luxurious pieces carved out of precious stones or molded out of silver and gold. After the invention of glass-blowing, glass continued to play the role of an inexpensive substitute for precious materials, but as Pliny notes, colorless glass came to be prized as a medium in its own right, creating its own market niche.
This fragment is an excellent example of the use of glass as a surrogate for precious stones. It was made by blowing a glob of dark green glass which had been cased inside a layer of opaque white glass. The resulting vessel had a wall composed of two thin color layers. The artisan then cut through the white layer judiciously to reveal the green, just as gem-cutters did with layered stones such as agate and onyx to create luxurious cameos.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 131, no. 261.
G. M. A. Richter, Catalogue of Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues (Cambridge, 1956), 65, no. 45, pl. XVIII C.
E. Simon, Die Portlandvase (Mainz, 1957), 78, no. 2.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 92, no. 316, pl. 316.
Collection of Fahim Kouchakji, New York.
Collection of Charles B. Hoyt, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Purchased from Mr. Charles B. Hoyt by Dumbarton oaks Research Library and Collection, November 4, 1946.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.