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5000 Years of Glass

Next week, the new edition of 5000 Years of Glass will hit the shelves! The 2012 edition of this definitive world history of glassmaking and decorative techniques from 2500 BC is now updated to include the period 1940 to the present day.

5000 Years of GlassThis classic book traces the history of glassmaking in its many forms, from its origins in Western Asia some 5000 years ago through the invention of glassblowing around the first century BC, to the introduction of mechanized processes and finally to new styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. Highlighted are the flourishing industries of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the extraordinary achievements of the Roman Empire, the elegant vessels of the Islamic Near East, the superb mastery of Renaissance Venice and the wide-ranging experiments of modern Europe and America, all written by a team of distinguished experts from Britain and America.

We’ve showcased here some examples of the beautiful glass works featured in 5000 Years of Glass.

Image - Page 40

Tall core-formed alabastron of sea-green glass. Said to be from Pozzuoli (ancient Puteoli) in Italy, but probably made in western Asia in a Phoenician glasshouse in the 7th or the 6th century BC.


According to the bold inscription on the body, this lamp was made for Saif al-Din Shaikhu’’l-‘Umari, a prominent Mamluk official and powerful supporter of Sultan Hasan. The lamp was probably intended for the mosque, monastery (Khanqah) and tomb which he built in Cairo between 1349 and 1356. The three roundels on the neck contain Shaikhu’s blazon, a cup, which indicates that he held the office of cup-bearer. Syria or Egypt, about 1350.


Nef (or ship) ewer of cristallo with added details in blue glass and two mould-pressed satyr-mask medallions. This is one of the few genuine specimens of this fragile Renaissance table decoration to have survived, although they were being made in Venice from 1521 by Ermonia Vivarini under a special privilege. Hitherto it has been universally accepted that they were also being made at the leading façon de Venise centre in the Southern Netherlands, the Colinet glassworks at Beauwelz, but the evidence – a sketch (with commentary) in the MS pattern book shown as the ‘Catalogue Colinet’ (Rakow Library, Corning Museum of Glass) – can no longer be regarded as authentic. This sketch purports to be a record of the very large glass nef offered to the emperor Charles V in 1549. Venice, about 1525- 50.


‘Inari’ bowl, designed by Tapio Wirkkala in 1967 for Iitala. Produced 1967 – 81. Inari is the area in the far north of Finland on the arctic border. Wirkkala was fascinated by the experiences of everyday life in this harsh frozen landscape, recreated here in glass. Mould-blown and partly cut glass.

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

5000 Years of Glass, edited by Hugh Tait, is published by the British Museum Press (paperback, £25) and is available from the British Museum online shop, and will be available in bookshops starting on Monday 26th November.

Category: Art, Art History, New Releases


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