Hellenistic Greek Glass Shell

Greek · 2nd - 1st century B.C.





L: 14.50 cm





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This beautiful and highly attractive object is made of translucent yellow-green glass. It is shaped as a large shell of the Family Arcidae (ark shells) and presents its typical feature: the body is longer than high. On the exterior, fourteen thick, V-shaped ribs radiate from the umbone and become broader toward the long edge creating the pattern looking like a hand fan. They correspond to the deep grooves on the interior side, where the hinge is slightly arched.

The craftsman who faithfully followed the form of the natural shell left a thicker wall nevertheless. One feels it with the weight of the object and realizes that the thickness differs in the parts. It is especially noticeable toward the edge. This area was probably fortified with the intention when the craftsman took into consideration the practical use of the dish making of a fragile material. When the piece is brought to the light, it reveals the different effects of translucency and semi-translucency. Once again, this depends on the glass wall’s thickness and reminds of the unique manufacturing process: the glass was cast by sagging in a one-piece mold and subsequently hand-tooled.

Since the Hellenistic period, it became a tradition for the Greeks and Romans to present the bowls in the form of a shell as their table service dishes. The silver and gilded silver items and the pieces made of semiprecious stones would be considered the most luxurious, while the bronze ones were in more common use. It has been suggested that the specific shape suited well the shellfish dishes; it is also believed that the bronze bowls were used as the baking pans. One cannot exclude the opportunity of employing such vessels in the libation ceremonies. The deep grooves of this glass shell would create the flow of multiple drops over the altar.


Complete; assembled from seven large fragments; few chips and fractures.


Art market, prior to 1960s;

Ex- B.R.Wagner private collection, Geneva, collected in the late 1960s– 1970.




GOLDSTEIN S. M., Pre-Roman and Early Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, 1979, pp. 139-140, no. 288.

STERN E. M., Roman Mold-blown Glass: The First through Sixth Centuries: The Toledo Museum of Art, Rome, 1995, pp. 199-200, no. 137.

STRONG D. E., Greek and Roman Silver Plate, London, New York, 1979, p. 153, pl. 42a.


Museum Parallels

Corning Museum of Glass

Corning, New York, United States

Toledo, Museum of Art

Toledo, Ohio, United States