Gold Ruby

Selected objects from The Corning Museum of Glass collection.

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    The lost stem and foot were replaced in the 19th or 20th century. In addition, this goblet must originally have had a cover. Despite these losses, the vessel is a very important example of gold ruby glassmaking in Brandenburg before 1700. Only six such goblets are documented. Two, formerly in Berlin, were lost during World War II, and the others are in Hamburg, Darmstadt, and Bremen. The covered goblet in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, is the closest parallel to this goblet, and it suggests what the Corning goblet may originally have looked like.
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    Cut and engraved glass made in Brandenburg during the late 17th and early 18th centuries is often decorated with bands of polished roundels, especially below the rim, and frequently at the base. These roundels, as well as the circles under the base of this beaker, are similar to those on an unpublished beaker on the Berlin art market, which is also decorated with putti in the style of Gottfried Spiller.
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    This vessel has no stand; it was meant to be emptied before it was set back on its rim or, as an example in the Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart, shows, onto a corresponding flask.The glass bears the monogram of King Frederick William I of Prussia (r. 1713–1740) and his device, an eagle flying toward the sun, with the motto “Non soli cedit” (He does not retreat from the sun), a sign of defiance against Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King” (r. 1643–1715). Frederick William was a militaristic ruler (der Soldatenkönig, the soldier’s king) in that he built a formidable standing army as the center of his reform program for Prussia. He was feared for his brutal and choleric character, and he spent exorbitant sums on the famous “Lange Kerls ” (tall fellows), a regiment of guards composed of exceptionally tall men. On the other hand, his reign produced a period of peace for his country. He went to war only once (in 1715), and his parsimonious and obsessively detailed government set the foundation for the rise of Prussia within central Europe.The Order of the Black Eagle was founded in 1701 by Frederick William’s father, Frederick, shortly before his coronation as King Frederick I of Prussia.
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    The dark color of this goblet is typical of ruby glass production in Brandenburg during the reign of King Frederick William I. Presumably, the process had to be reinvented because it followed a period of almost one generation in which gold ruby seems not to have been made at all. An article in the journal Potsdammische Quintessenz…(no. 13, January 28, 1741) credits this revival to Ehrenfried Krieger (Krüger), leaseholder of the Potsdam glasshouse since 1719. The goblet exemplifies the best glass cutting skills in Brandenburg at that time. The edges and curves are rendered in an exceptionally smooth and flawless manner.
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    Decorating colorless glass with red canes was a convenient method of adding the aureate qualities of gold ruby to a work without having to struggle with the process of coloring the glass throughout. Rubinfluss (ruby-colored enamel) was traded among glassworks, and red filigrana decoration is found in the stems and finials of Bohemian, Silesian, and Saxon goblets made during the first quarter of the 18th century. This goblet and related examples form a group that goes beyond the usual attempts to make gold ruby filigrana decoration. These more elaborate vessels generally feature spiral threading, but the Corning goblet stands out with its unusual vertical and nipped decoration.
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    Because of a lack of parallels, the provenance and date of this beaker are difficult to establish. In terms of its shape and its cut roundels, the vessel somewhat resembles a tumbler in the Kunstsammlungen, Weimar (Hörning 1978, no. 72). This bears the arms of a Moravian family, which makes a Bohemian origin likely for the Corning beaker. The engraving of the fruits and flowers is slightly similar to the magnificent decoration on a tumbler in the Sammlung für Angewandte Kunst, Kassel (Kerssenbrock-Krosigk 2001, pp. 87– 89 and 182–183, no. 116), which may have been engraved during the second quarter of the 18th century, possibly by a master from Silesia.
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    The eagle, which covers part of the finial mount, seems to have been added in the 19th century or later. A characteristic feature of so-called South German ruby glass is quality inferior to that of the large and complex vessels produced in Brandenburg. Presumably in order to ensure an even and faultless ruby color, the shapes were kept as simple as possible. The glassmakers specialized in the production of small components that were then assembled by silversmiths in Augsburg and Nuremberg. When the ruby glass batch had been mastered, glass production must have been simple and fast, and it is likely that almost all of the vessels with “South German” characteristics originated in a single glasshouse, possibly during a very short time. In keeping with the making of the glass, the decoration was usually engraved hastily, but it is nevertheless vivid and varied. Swags of fruit and birds were common motifs. It may seem surprising that glass of less than perfect quality was accepted for the often elaborate work of silversmiths in Augsburg and Nuremberg, which were then the centers of silverworking in central Europe. However, as this beaker demonstrates, the collaboration could result in gemlike vessels.
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    The emblem on this tankard's cover comes from Amorum emblemata by Otho Vaenius (Antwerp, 1608), and it is featured in the compilation Devises et emblemes, which was first published in Amsterdam in 1691 and in a first German edition two years later. This work was popular, and it was republished several times. The fifth edition was issued in Augsburg in 1703, and this may have been used by the silver engraver of this mug.
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    The mounts were made by Elias Adam (d. 1745), who became a master silversmith in 1703 (Seling 1980, v. 3, pp. 296–298, no. 1964). The Augsburg mark resembles nos. 165–167 in ibid., and it can therefore be dated to about 1708–1710. The glass is probably somewhat earlier.
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