Glassmaking in Antiquity
Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011
viii + 136 pp., $20 (paperback)
Reviewed by Dorothy D. Resig
From the dishes in our cupboards to the windows in our houses and cars, we are surrounded by glass every day. Innovations such as tempered glass, bullet-proof glass and fiber-optic cable (made of extremely thin strands of glass) have made it a modern, hi-tech substance, but it is simultaneously an ancient one. Karol B. Wight, senior curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, notes in the introduction of her book Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity that “Most of us have no idea that glassmaking began over three thousand years ago or that the techniques developed over two thousand years ago to shape it into a variety of pleasing and useful forms are the same techniques that are still employed by glass artists today.”
Although not technically an exhibit catalog, this book was directly inspired by the Molten Color exhibit that Wight installed at the Getty Villa for its reopening in 2006, and virtually all of the pictured objects come from the Getty’s collections. Beautifully illustrated with nearly a hundred colorful and intricate glass objects, the book explains the basic methods of glassmaking—from molding and casting, mosaic shaping, core forming, and finally inflating or glass blowing. Wight traces the craft’s history from its beginnings in Mesopotamia and Egypt to its spread throughout the Mediterranean world and its flourishing in the Roman Empire. A map, list of abbreviations and glossary of terms prove helpful for the novice. From the swirling stripes of Greek perfume bottles to the elegant blue and white Roman cameo vessels (such as the wine cup at right), many of these ancient glass objects would appear equally at home in a modern dining room or contemporary art museum.
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