Roman Splashed Glass Bottle with Two Handles

Roman · 1st century A.D.




H: 16.0 cm (H: 6.29 in)





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The vessel was blown in a purple glass adorned with “spots”, which are completely embedded in the mass of the parison: these spots were probably yellow, blue and white. The spherical body of the bottle is supported by a slightly flattened and concave bottom that provides the container with good balance. The high, cylindrical neck ends in a wide lip with a vertical, thick edge. The two handles are not identical and are not placed at the same height of the shoulder and neck. They are made of a circular ribbon of purple glass and attached to the surface by means of a large “folded knob”. Despite the current condition of the polychromy (certainly less bright and shiny than originally), this bottle is remarkable for its excellent state of preservation, and for its technical and artistic qualities. The technique of splashed glass was very popular in the early Imperial times, especially during the JulianClaudian period; it tends to disappear in the last decades of the 1st century A.D. Certainly intended for the wealthy classes of society, such vessels would have been produced as an imitation of the famous “millefiori” molded vases, which were also luxury items: for a rather similar aesthetic and equally unique result, the manufacture of splashed vessels was simplified and accelerated thanks to the use of the blowing cane. The polychromatic spots were obtained by sprinkling seeds or opaque glass powder on a parison barely prepared by a slight blowing: because of the heat (the parison is first heated before the continuation of the blowing), the colored seeds then blend with the transparent glass, and form an unpredictable and very bright splashed decoration. During the final modeling, the spots modify their shape and “move” on the vase according to the movements that the glassmaker gives to the parison: they generally become larger and rounded on the broader areas (spherical body of the vase), stretched or even pointed on the neck, or spiraled when the parison is rotated. 11 Polychromy is a key element of these vessels: the background is often blue (the most common color) and generally adorned with white, red or yellow patterns; other vases are made of amber, transparent colorless or more rarely purple glass, as here. The most commonly used form was the small amphora, probably intended to contain wine or water. Various versions of one-handed bottles and small balsamaria were also widely spread; the aryballoi, the cantharoi, the small jars without handles or the small bottles like our example are more rarely seen. Most splashed glass vases or fragments come from the western or central regions of the Empire, especially from sites located in the Alpine region (Northern Italy, Ticino, Vindonissa). Other workshops probably existed in the Aegean and Black Sea regions, and perhaps in Syria-Palestine.


Complete and in excellent condition, minor limestone deposits and traces of iridescent patina. Slightly worn, matte surface; the colors of the spots slightly faded (specially the yellow, which is still visible on the neck); under the base, an old inventory no. B190 is written in black.


Ex- Benzian collection, Lucerne, Switzerland, prior to 1984;

Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 1994, lot 134.


3000 Jahre Glasskunst, Lucerne, 1981, p. 75, no. 235; KLEIN D. – LLOYD W. (eds.), The History of Glass, London, 1984, p. 27 (color plate);

Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 1994, lot 134;

CRYSTAL 7, Phoenix Ancient Art, Geneva-New York, 2017, no. 11, pp. 68-71


TEFAF, New York, October 2017


On the technique of splashed glass, see: BERETTA M. – DI PASQUALE G., eds., Vitrum, Il vetro tra arte e scienza nel mondo romano, Florence – Milan, 2004, pp. 56-58, fig. 16-17. BERGER L., Römische Gläser aus Vindonissa, Basel, 1960, pp. 33-34. FREMERSDORF F. Römische Gläser mit buntgefleckter Oberfläche, in Festschrift für Auguste Oxé, Darmstadt, 1938, pp. 116-121. Related splashed glass vessels: BIAGGIO SIMONA S., I vetri romani provenienti dalle terre dell’attuale cantone Ticino, vol. I, Locarno, 1991, pp. 235-240. HARDEN D.B., ed., Glass of the Caesars, Corning-London-Cologne, 1987, pp. 101-102, pp. 109-112, nos. 42-45. KUNINA N., Ancient Glass in the Hermitage Collection, St. Petersburg, 1997, pp. 107, 109, 149-152, 155.

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