Yale University Art Gallery Showcases Collection of Antique Glass

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The Yale University Art Gallery, which holds one of the finest collections of antique glass in the country, features 56 pieces of glass dating from the 14th century BC.


Contributing journalist


Audrey Kim, collaborating photographer

A collection of 56 pieces of Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman glass was on display at the Yale University Art Gallery. Held in the Mary and James Ottaway Gallery of ancient Dura-Europos, the collection features works of glass that range from the 14th century BC to the seventh century AD

According to Associate Curator of Ancient Art Lisa Brody, much of the collection comes from a special antique glass exhibit in the fall of 2017 called “Drink That You May Live,” which was also held at Yale. University Art Gallery. Most of the works currently on display were also presented as part of this special exhibition. This exhibition differs because it will remain visible indefinitely.

“The Gallery has one of the two or three best collections [of ancient glass] in the country and it has to be seen, ”said Susan Matheson, Molly and Walter Bareiss Curator for Ancient Art. “And when we saw how the [2017 exhibition] was, how positively it was received and how many people wanted to see more of it, we thought we needed to take a similar strategy here.

Matheson, who has worked at the Gallery since 1974, noted that the collection is also of particular interest to researchers, as research into antique glass has increased in recent decades.

“[When I started,] it was not a well-known collection, ”said Matheson. “The scholarly study and understanding of ancient glass was nowhere to be found now. When I started working on this collection, it was a fairly small body of literature, but [the research] has since really taken off.

Organized in seven glass display cases, the collection is mainly divided according to chronological order and technique. The pieces consist of works of mosaic glass, blown and mold-blown glass, molded and molded glass, and vessels adorned with marbled and splashed glass or strands of molten glass. Highlights include a globular bowl of Ennion, one of the most famous glassmakers of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean world, who exists as one of the 20 surviving ships in the world bearing his signature.

Matheson said she hopes viewers will particularly appreciate the intricacy of how these works were created.

“Glassware has gone from being a luxury item to an everyday item, to a combination of luxury items and everyday items,” Matheson said. “These earlier works were, at the time, very difficult to achieve, and [people] did not understand much about the technique of glass or the material itself. Then they started using molds, which are easier to reproduce, and then we have these blown pieces. We hope viewers can understand how [glass artisans] using the technique and the material in a special way that could only be done with glass, which would not have been possible with a material like silver.

Most of the works on display were given as gifts from the first half of the 20th century, namely from the Hobart and Edward Small Moore Memorial private collection and the Anna Rosalie Mansfield collection. According to Matheson, although some of the glass works have already been exhibited in the gallery, others have never been exhibited.

Brody said the collection emphasizes both technique and artistry.

“I hope that people seeing these works will remember that they are made of glass and appreciate both the technique and the technology behind it, as well as the art,” said Brody. “It’s a combination of craftsmanship and art, and we want visitors to appreciate the end result as a work of art, but also to remember what went into it and how it was made. the way it was made. “

Andrew Daubar, Gallery’s director of exhibition production, works with curators to install the collections and exhibits. He explained that this collection is unusual due to the scale and size of the objects, and the way the Gallery has dimmed the lighting to bring the objects to light.

“Because these objects are so small and some of them have very fine detail, we tried to create a pretty dramatic environment,” Daubar said. “Our intention is that all the rest [besides the art] disappears. We wanted a dark color [for the collection’s walls], as they tend to lower the ceiling, creating a more intimate experience, and allowing for more focused viewing of smaller objects and fine details.

Brody said she hopes viewers will walk away with a better understanding of how these objects work. She also hopes that the exhibition will allow visitors to find an intimate connection with these objects, which would have been used in everyday life.

“Old glass is, in many museums, not on display as much as a sculpture would because of its fragility and rarity,” said Brody. “We hope that in this space, with the way it is set up, visitors will spend time getting close to these works and appreciating the details, the artistry, the beauty and all of these as part of our overall understanding of art in the world. “

The exhibition features 56 exquisite and rare examples of Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman glass ranging from the 14th century BC to the seventh century AD. the high artistic level reached by glassmakers in the ancient world.

On view are works of mosaic glass, which inspired the last craftsmen of Renaissance Venice; glass blown in the open and blown in the mold; molded and cast glass; and vases adorned with marbled and spattered glass, gilding or molten glass threads. If the names of the oldest glassmakers are unknown today, the most accomplished among them signed their works.

One of the installation’s most spectacular ships is a bowl signed by the Roman glassmaker Ennion, a master of mold-blown glass from the early to mid-first century AD


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