Featured Objects from Medieval Glass

Featured exhibition objects from Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants

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    Beakers with horizontal trails and vertical loops are known as the “Kempston” type, after the find-place in the eastern United Kingdom of a particularly fine example. Kempston beakers from datable archeological contexts include fifth-century specimens from Alfriston, Mitcham, and Guildown in the United Kingdom, and Huy/St.-Victor in Belgium. Other vessels have been found in sixth-century graves at Alfriston and Dover in the United Kingdom, and Baisy-Thy in Belgium. This beaker is said to have been found at Acklam, now a suburb of Middlesborough in Yorkshire, United Kingdom, in 1892.
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    In the late 1930s, excavations at Corinth in southern Greece brought to light the remains of a medieval glass factory. Among the most distinctive products were prunted beakers. Numerous coins from the site suggested that the factory operated in the first half of the 12th century, when Greece was part of the Byzantine Empire. Corinth was attacked by Normans from Sicily in 1147, and for 50 years it was believed that the glassmakers were transported to that island. There, it was supposed, they made prunted beakers, which were imitated in Italy and north of the Alps. New evidence for the date of the factory, however, shows that this assumption is false. Indeed, today it appears probable that the prunted beakers at Corinth were made by glassmakers from Italy around the year 1300.
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    This bottle was found at Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy. Similar bottles, with or without a bulge near the top of the neck, are depicted in Italian paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries. They are shown in various contexts. In pictures of the Last Supper, the Wedding at Cana, and Herod’s Feast, they often appear filled with wine, together with pattern-molded or prunted beakers. Very few examples survive intact, although numerous fragments have been found in archeological excavations. The word inghistere (the spelling varies) in Venetian and other medieval documents probably refers to bottles of this type.
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    Forest glass Stangengläser decorated with vertical rows of prunts were popular in Germany and adjoining regions in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. This example was found in Mainz, Germany.
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    Kuttrolfe usually have a funnel-shaped rim. It seems likely, therefore, that the rim of this example was broken and the vessel was repaired by attaching a base metal top with a stopper. The object is thought to have been found in the Netherlands.
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    This object is perhaps the only intact example of a small group of prunted beakers with conical bowls and openwork feet formed by trailing. A very similar but fragmentary beaker was found during excavations in Maastricht, southeastern Netherlands, in association with pottery datable to the end of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th century. Other beakers of this type appear in paintings by two Netherlandish artists of the first quarter of the 16th century: the Master of the Mansi Magdalen (active 1510–1525) and the Master of 1518 (The Last Supper in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels).
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    The beaker is decorated with two lions. It was found in the sacristy of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Halberstadt, Germany, in 1820. Hedwig beakers take their name from Saint Hedwig of Silesia (d. 1243), who is traditionally associated with two of them. The ascetic Hedwig annoyed her husband, Duke Henry I, by refusing to drink wine. According to legend, on one occasion Hedwig was drinking water when Henry snatched the glass from her, only to find that the water had turned into wine. The earliest datable Hedwig beakers belong to the late 12th or early 13th century, and this is probably the date of the beakers that cannot be closely dated. Thirteen Hedwig beakers survived in medieval European treasuries, and fragments of others have been found in archeological excavations in various parts of Europe. Not a single example has been reported from the Islamic world. Nevertheless, no other cut glass is known to have been made in Europe during the Middle Ages, and the origin of the Hedwig beakers remains uncertain.
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    This is an outstanding, and probably datable, early example of Venetian cristallo, and it demonstrates how glass from Venice was sought after abroad. The beaker is decorated with a coat of arms and two figures. The arms are those of the patrician Behaim family of Nuremberg, Germany. One of the figures is the archangel Michael, who is shown killing a dragon (which represents Satan); the second figure is Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The combination of Michael and Catherine is without precedent, and the arms of the Behaim family suggest why they should appear together. On July 7, 1495, Michael Behaim married Katerina Lochnerin, the daughter of a wealthy Nuremberg merchant with extensive business interests in Venice. The beaker, it is believed, was one of a set of souvenir glasses made for the bride and groom, or for important guests at the marriage banquet.
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    The bubbles of molten glass that formed the body and foot of the vessel were partly inflated in a dip mold to create the vertical ribs, which are more prominent on the foot than on the body. The decoration, known as millefiori (Italian, “1,000 flowers”), was made by rolling the bubbles on a surface strewn with pieces of canes (multicolored glass rods that were bundled and fused to form a polychrome design). The pieces stuck to the semi-molten bubbles. As the glassblower continued to inflate the bubbles, many of the fragments, particularly those at the midsection of the body, became stretched. This is the only known example of a ewer of this shape with millefiori decoration.