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 blue glass applied handles to a clear molded main body, zig-zag applied decorative white glass to the main body, and an attached flat blue knob at the base. There are nice traces of iridescence to the body. Worn as an amulet symbolizing 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: Small expected loss to the trailing otherwise intact and in very good condition overall.
Dimensions: Height: 1 inch (2.5 cm)
Provenance: Private Maryland collection, acquired from the NY trade in early 1990's.