Glass Through the Ages
The beauty of ancient glass has made it a favorite with collectors. One of the richest collections of ancient glass from the Land of Israel and surrounding countries, with objects dating from as early as the second millennium BCE to the present day resides in this collection, which also includes examples of more modern glass. The display is organized chronologically and includes the most outstanding examples of more modern glass. The collection includes important finds from archaeological excavations that distinguish the Israel Museum collection from other museum glass assemblages of the world. The especially rich repertoire of local shapes and hues represented here vividly reflects the intrinsic beauty of glassware from the Land of Israel and the major role this region played in the history of glass.
Glass is a man made material originated in the Middle East about four thousand years ago. The collection includes an early group of cosmetic vessels created before the invention of glass-blowing. Developed in the second millennium BCE in Egypt and Mesopotamia, these were refined during the first millennium BCE on the island of Rhodes, and traded through the Mediterranean region because of their contents. The remarkable mastery over the blowing of glass show vessels of the first century CE made of a multitude of colors and richly decorated with relief motifs. Among those are the first mold-blown luxury bottles (in which the decoration was achieved by blowing the glass into a patterned mold), attributed to the city of Sidon on the Phoenician coast. The basic glass used locally is greenish or bluish, owing to the presence of metal oxides in the raw material. Additional ornamentation, mainly of applied trails, was often made in strong shades, such as blue and turquoise. The surprisingly large number of vessels that survived from the Roman and Byzantine period can be explained by the custom of placing glass objects in tombs, where they remained untouched for centuries.
Two unique finds excavated in Israel are shown here: a carved plate of the second century CE found in the Cave of Letters in the Judean Desert and a fourth-century CEplate from the Bet She’arim cemetery, decorated with incised drawings. The collection also includes Roman and Byzantine vessels bearing Jewish and Christian religious symbols, as well as two magnificent gold-glass bases from the Jewish Catacombs in Rome, depicting the menorah and Torah ark. The Islamic artisans of the region nurtured the Classical-Byzantine tradition of glass manufacture: with vessels dated from the eighth to the fifteenth century CE from Iran and Turkey, and contemporary pieces from Europe and America.