This amazing little Roman glass vessel belongs to a poorly-understood class of miniature glass objects from the late Roman period. These tiny gems were usually made in blue glass and unlike most glass of the period, they were hand-worked probably by bead makers, rather than blown. This piece has a blue glass handle applied to a molded main body, decorative zig-zag trailing of yellow and turquoise glass, and an attached flat base. Worn as an amulet, it symbolized cool water for the afterlife.
Background: There is some conjecture that these glass vessels were actually early Christian amulets taken as relics and/or souvenirs from holy areas. In "Roman, Byzantine, and early Medieval Glass, the Ernesto Wolf Collection, 10 BCE-700 CE," Stern argues for this interpretation based on the distribution of these objects from the Holy Land to western Europe, which supports production in the Middle East and distribution to the Christian world. A vessel of solid blue glass is seen in Christie's Antiquities London, April 1998, lot #45, and was described as "Two Byzantine Blue Glass Amulets Representing the Sacred Vessel of Joseph of Arimathea."
Gustavus Eisen made a similar attribution to a parallel vessel seen in his monumental study, "Glass, Its Origin, History, Chronology, Technic and Classification to the Sixteenth Century, page 520." According to the Christian literary tradition, the vessel of Joseph of Arimathea was used to catch the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. This story provided the basis for the Medieval romance cycles that gave us the legend of the Holy Grail.
For related example see: Birgit Schlick-Nolte "Reflections on Ancient Glass from the Borowski Collection" (2002) pl. V-33, p. 78.
Condition: Nice traces of iridescence to the body, the amulet is intact and in very good condition overall. A very fine example of type.
Dimensions: height: 1 3/8” (3.5 cm)
Provenance: John J. Slocum, Snr (1914-1997) private collection of ancient art, thereafter to his son John J. Slocum, Jr. (1941 - 2017). Slocum assembled the collection while serving as US cultural attaché to Egypt in the 1960s. He later served as Assistant to the Director of The Smithsonian, was appointed by President Reagan to the Presidential Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and was a Trustee Emeritus of the Archaeological Institute of America. A well-respected scholar/collector, his collection of medieval crusader coins were sold in a single-owner sale at Sotheby’s, London in 1997.