Cultural Reflections

If we look carefully at objects in the Museum, we’ll see that many of them tell us something about the culture in which they were created. Sometimes the objects look so different from what we use today, that we can’t imagine how they were originally used. We’d like to highlight a few that we think you will enjoy.

  • Artwork

    Roman gladiators are legendary in our modern popular culture, and they were extremely popular in their day. Mold-blown cups and beakers depicting gladiatorial contests and chariot racing appear to have been made in the western Roman Empire. These “sports cups” were probably created to celebrate sporting heroes. The figures are identified by inscriptions.

    watch: Mold Blowing
    watch: Cracking Off

  • Artwork
    At first glance, it may be hard to imagine how this fanciful object, which dates from 600-799, was used. In fact, the tubes resting upon two winged horses held cosmetics. Such objects were made in the Syrian region. The idea of supporting small containers with animal forms may have derived from the production of glass toys and figurines. More than 20 such objects are found in museums.
  • Artwork

    This candlestick, probably made in Egypt, is one of only two known enameled and gilded glass candlesticks from the Islamic world. The shape derives from Islamic metalwork; bronze candlesticks in this form are not rare. The candlestick is decorated with polychrome enamels that exemplify the three most common types of designs used in Islamic art: calligraphy, arabesques (vine and leaf tendrils), and geometric patterns.

    watch: Enameling

  • Artwork
    In the early 17th century, when this object was made, a host or hostess faced the challenge of keeping guests entertained with light-hearted amusements. Trick glasses were intended to be for drinking games. As one drinks from this glass, the liquid in the tubes and bulbs suddenly rushes out, dousing the drinker.
  • Artwork
    This late 17th-century English bowl was made for a very specific purpose—posset. A posset was a remedy for minor illnesses, such as a cold. The patient could hold both handles and sip from the spout while reclining. To make a posset, one could use a variety of ingredients, but usually milk was heated to a boil then mixed with wine or ale, which curdled it, and spices were added. Posset pots were often ceramic, but this example is made of the newly developed lead glass and bears George Ravenscroft’s seal.
  • Artwork

    Although this American blown glass vase technically could have held flowers, it was made for a very different purpose. During the early 19th century, celery was a new “exotic” vegetable. Hostesses proudly displayed stalks of celery with their leafy tops extending out of the vase. Often celery vases (sometimes simply called “celeries”) were used in pairs as decorative accents, even replacing flower bouquets on the dining table.

    watch: Wheel engraving

  • Artwork
    This plate, just over 3.5 inches in diameter, is called a cup plate. Thousands of cup plates were made in America in the second quarter of the 19th century. Literature of the day encouraged women to be economical and to purchase teacups with no handles; when the handles broke, the cups were unsightly and could no longer be used. The hot tea was poured from the teapot into the teacup then transferred to a matching shallow saucer to cool. One placed the dripping teacup on a glass cup plate and sipped from the saucer. Due to the newly developed mechanical press, cup plates could be made very inexpensively. Designs were often historical; this example celebrates the advent of the steam coach.
  • Artwork
    This small bear-shaped jar, made in America, may remind you of commercial candy jars, but it had a very different function. Jars like this held bear grease, which men used as hair pomade in the mid-late 19th century. The jars in the Museum’s collection are quite similar, but they are not all from the same company. Similar jars were also made of ceramic.
  • Artwork
    In the 19th century, F. & C. Osler of Birmingham, England, and other European glass firms made high quality cut glass furniture, chandeliers and other objects for the Indian market. Elaborately decorated fly whisks, like this glass and horse hair example, were used in both ceremonial and practical contexts. They are often illustrated in paintings of Indian nobility, being held by the ruler’s servant who stands nearby.