The principal glass industry in the Mediterranean world throughout the Classical and Hellenistic periods comprised the production of small core-formed vessels intended for storing cosmetics, scented oils and unguents. The majority of the workshops were concentrated in cities throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, such as along the Levantine coast and Rhodes, while some glass-making centers were established as far west as Spain.
Many of the vessel shapes were miniature forms modelled on pottery and stone examples. The most popular form universally produced was the alabastron, such as the present example – a tall, cylindrical bottle that imitated examples primarily in alabaster, hence the name. But a number of other shapes were also widely produced and circulated, such as the amphoriskos (small amphora), hydriskos (small hydria), aryballos, and oinochoe. By the Hellenistic period, a greater variety of shapes and sizes were introduced. Many of these forms were placed upon gold stands in order to keep them mounted in a vertical position.
The fabrication of these vessels consisted of a core of sand, clay, and an organic binder around which molten glass could be worked and tooled. Contrasting colours were coiled around the matrix and then smoothed on a stone or metal slab known as a marver. These coils were then tooled into patterns along the body before the glass was annealed, after which the friable core was dissolved.
These glass vessels were highly regarded as luxury goods, with precious contents, made for wealthy patrons across the Hellenistic world. Once the blow pipe was invented in the early Roman period, these core-formed vessels became obsolete, as glass became more affordable and more easily obtained.
The present vessel is a stunning example of the type. It is fashioned from a rich cobalt blue matrix, with trails of white, turquoise and yellow meticulously arranged in a vivid festoon pattern along the length of the body. A similar example belongs to the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio (inv. no. 1923.178).
American Private Collection, sold Hesperia Art Auctions, New York, 27 November 1990, lot 160.
Private Collection, New York, sold Sotheby’s, New York, 9 December 2003, lot 96.
Published: Core Form: The Cyrus Collection of Core Form Glass, New York, 1995, p. 13.