January 11, 2007

Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity Returns to the Getty Villa in Malibu

The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, January 11-April 23, 2007

LOS ANGELES—This exhibition celebrates the acquisition of more than 350 pieces of beautiful and rare ancient glass from the Oppenländer collection. Molten Color: Glassmaking in Antiquity, at the Getty Villa, January 11-April 23, 2007, has some of the earliest glass objects made, including perfume flasks, bowls, and beads. The exhibition displays the remarkable quality and chronological and technical breadth of this group of works, which span the entire period of ancient glass production, with examples from Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and western Iran), Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire.  This acquisition places the Getty among the nation’s leading centers for the display and study of ancient glass.

Molten Color was one of the three inaugural exhibitions marking the return of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu, which opened after a major renovation last year on January 28 as an educational center and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.  

Molten Color features approximately 180 pieces of glass that explore the origins of glassmaking.  The works were acquired from the private holdings of Erwin Oppenländer (German, 1901–1988), who assembled his collection in the mid-20th century. Oppenländer’s determination to form a comprehensive collection is evident in the quality of the objects, which cover all periods of glass production, from its origins in Mesopotamia in about 2500 B.C. to Byzantine and Islamic glass of the 11thcentury A.D.  Also notable is the variety of ancient glassmaking techniques represented, such as casting, core forming, mosaic, in?ating, mold blowing, incising, and cutting. All these techniques are still used by glass artists today.  The exhibition presents the objects arranged by method of manufacture, and is accompanied by videos that demonstrate some of the production techniques.

Glass served a variety of functions in antiquity. It was used for windows and for architectural decoration in the form of mosaics and inlays. In the first century A.D., glass began to replace bronze and terracotta as the preferred material for drinking, dining, and food storage vessels. Small glass jars were produced for perfumed oil and cosmetics. Objects such as lamps, inkwells, mirrors, game pieces, and statuettes were also made of glass.

Glassmaking Techniques in Antiquity

Many of the earliest glass vessels, dating to about 2500 B.C., were made in Mesopotamia by forming a core of ceramic-like material around a metal rod and then encasing it in molten glass. Flasks for scented oils were usually made this way. Another early technique involved pouring hot glass into a mold.  These core-forming and casting processes were used for more than 1,500 years, until the appearance of mosaic glass in the 2nd century B.C. 

Like a stone mosaic, mosaic glass is made up of a number of small pieces fused together.  Ribbon glass was made by fusing canes or rods of glass placed side by side, while marbled glass was created from multiple colors of glass that were heated and melted together to form patterns similar to multi-colored stones.  Mosaic glass vessels are among the most colorful types of ancient containers.

In the mid-?rst century B.C., glassmakers around Jerusalem discovered that molten glass could be in?ated into a bubble at the end of a hollow tube. This blowing technique revolutionized the glass industry, allowing vessels to be made quickly and more cheaply, and glassware began to replace clay vessels for household use. Later, glass vessels were manufactured by in?ating glass into molds made of stone, clay, bronze, and plaster.  The molds often incorporated decorative designs such as palm fronds or columns and could be used to make glass pieces of the same pattern over and over again.

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Tracy Gilbert    
Getty Communications



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