The decorative scheme for this bowl is known as a “Nilotic scene” since many of the elements reference the exotic flora and fauna of the Nile valley. In a beautiful arrangement across the dark purple surface of the interior, eight distinct birds are shown in a watery environment, among them a flamingo, a heron, ducks, and possibly a partridge. Care was taken to differentiate the colors of the various parts of the bird’s anatomy and feathers– tails, wings, beaks, feet. The orientation of the birds is on the same horizontal plane; all are meant to be seen from a single vantage point. In contrast, an abstract array of different colorful flowers, rosettes, and strips of cane are arranged around the figures of the birds. The flowers include nelumbo lotuses (seemingly depicted both as blossoms and seed pods) and other rosette-and heart-shaped buds. Uniquely, an eight-winged dragonfly is also shown. X-shaped striped cane segments are used to position some of the floral designs, and the background is scattered with a round rosette cane segment consisting of a yellow background with dark, radiating stripes. This scene is characteristic of later Roman art, and similar Nilotic landscapes can be found on the floor mosaics and wall frescoes that decorated Roman houses.
The bowl was constructed by first creating the glass disc that forms the background for the scene. The elements of the composition were arranged on the disc, and then heated and pressed until they were embedded in the purple glass. The disc was then placed over a hemispherical form and slumped into its curved, bowl shape. After annealing, the bowl was ground and polished.
While numerous fragments of similarly-inlaid and decorated bowls and plates are known, this is the first example that has survived from antiquity nearly intact. Bowls of this shape were often used for drinking wine, and one can imagine that when the contents of this bowl were full, the birds and flowers would have appeared to be floating in the waters of the Nile.