A Glass from the Past
Long before stone-age man first used obsidian to create cutting tools, glass has existed in nature. Rocks have melted in volcanic eruptions, cooling and hardening into glass. Meteorites collided with the planet to form impactites of clear, honey-colored glass. And dying sea sponges left behind silica skeletons, a substance used to create glass. To understand how this substance changed our world and became the beautiful art we know today, we must examine the history of the craft.
Some say glass was originally discovered by Phoenicians. They accidentally melted sand while cooking on blocks of soda on the beach. Other say that Mesopotamians were the first, as they already understood the how to use a kiln to create a glassy coat on their pottery. Because the process was difficult and expensive in ancient times, glass items from the 16th century were typically small. The pieces were usually the property of the most prominent members of society, such as priests and aristocrats.
In pre-Roman times, glass was mostly used for functional purposes. Glass-blowing technology had not yet been pioneered, so they improvised. They would create a core of clay, wrap it in hot glass, and wait for it to cool. After, they would remove the core and have a useful vessel for storing wine or water. Around 1500 BC, Middle Easterners used created mosaics, fusing together rods of colored glass to make a pattern. These practices eventually spread across Europe, to the Mediterranean, and Russia.
Glassblowing became the practice of the Roman Empire during 1st century BC, used for the creation of bottles for perfumes and oils. Around that time, the technology had spread to Italy, bringing glass windows and tableware into production. Glass shops continued to emerge across the continent, from Egypt to Switzerland. Though indulgence is forbidden in Islamic tradition, the Middle East still utilized glass to decorate their homes and holy buildings. The Syrians implemented enameling to provide their lamps a silver luster but stopped production once conquered by the Mongols in 1400.
It was during the Middle Ages that glass creation technology changed, introducing molds and new decoration techniques. Depending on the culture of the manufacturers, different styles of products were developed. In Belgium, they created vessels that looked like the horn of an animal, while Byzantine glassmakers added Jewish and Christian symbols to their wares.