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A Roman Blue Glass Tear Bottle, 1st Century AD

This beautifully preserved Roman vessel dates from the 1st century AD.  The technique is free-blown, a method invented in the preceding century. The luminous dark blue color of the glass, achieved by the addition of cobalt to the silica mixture, has precedents in Hellenistic glassware, but the elegant “tear drop” shape - piriform body, long slightly tapering cylindrical neck, and everted rim - is distinctively Roman. Large numbers of vessels in this shape have been found in Roman tombs, leading early archaeologists to the romantic but erroneous conception that these bottles contained the tears of Roman mourners. In fact, they were used as part of the Roman toilette and contained viscous liquids like unguents and perfumes.

Reference:  Hayes J. W. Roman and Pre-Roman Glass in the Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto, 1975. Susan H. Auth "Ancient Glass at the Newark Museum from the Eugene Schaefer collection" (1976).

Background:  Bottles such as this example belong to a very specific group of brilliantly colored fine ware that was produced in Italy and the Northwestern provinces in the 2nd quarter of the first century AD. Four specific colors can be associated with this class of vessels, including emerald green, cobalt blue, aquamarine and “peacock” blue. Contemporaneous ceramic and metal forms likely influenced the form of this vessel. A number of similar bottles have been found at both Pompeii and Herculaneum. Grose suggests that this is a testament to their high value since production seems to have stopped by 60 AD (Grose 1991, “Early Imperial Roman Cast Glass,” 9). By the Flavian era, this demand for bright color gave way to colorless vessels that dominated glass production until the fall of the Roman Empire.

Dimensions: Height: 3 1/4 inches (8 cm)

Condition: Areas of superb purple/pink/green iridescence to the body, with remaining heavy mineral accretions particularly to the rim interior, the vessel is intact and in excellent condition overall.

Provenance : The William R. Crawford collection of Ancient Glass and Antiquities, acquired in Cyprus prior to 1972.  This piece is accompanied by an export license from Cyprus.   William R. Crawford, a retired American career diplomat and expert on the Middle East and Cyprus, was Director of Arab-Israeli Affairs at the State Department between 1959-1964, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Cyprus thereafter. In the 1970's, he was ambassador to Yemen and then to Cyprus and later became principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs. He donated part of his collection to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts prior to his death in 2002. Exhibited:  Workhouse Art Center, Virginia, Glass National 2016, October, 2016- January 2017.

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