Thursday, May 20, 2010
Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants
The glass vessels and objects in the exhibit will range from highly decorated drinking vessels to church reliquaries—highlighting the many uses of glass in medieval society, and the significance of the material to local economies, religious ceremonies and scientific developments.
“The phrase ‘medieval glass’ often evokes an image of stained glass windows, but there exists a remarkable range of glass objects made for daily use which provide rare insight into a cross section of medieval society,” explains Dr. David Whitehouse, executive director of The Corning Museum of Glass and curator of this exhibition. “The objects in the exhibition trace the history of the Middle Ages in Europe through the lens of glassmaking. The story touches on politics, trade, urbanization and the disintegration of cities, religion, science, and technology and highlights the importance of the material to the development of the world we know today. Its arc spans a period of 1,000 years – nearly one quarter of the history of glassmaking – and depicts the rise of glassmaking from a dark period of reduced knowledge to an era of innovation.”
Glassmaking saw its greatest era in the ancient world during the Roman Empire, when glassmakers used a rich variety of techniques to meet the demands of wealthy patrons. As the Roman Empire disintegrated and Europe became politically fragmented, there were fewer glassmaking centers. The demand for glass and other luxury goods was reduced, and many glassmaking techniques were lost. It was not until the late Middle Ages, with the rise of craft guilds and cities, that glassmaking techniques were revived, setting the stage for the next great era of glassmaking: the emergence of Venice as the principal glassmaking center in the Renaissance.
One area of the exhibit will display glass objects used for eating and drinking, arranged chronologically to show the evolution of glass tableware through this thousand-year period, and to illustrate the increase in the decoration and complexity of the glass vessels as glassmaking techniques were rediscovered in the late Middle Ages. Copies of illuminated manuscripts and paintings throughout the exhibit will illustrate how these glass objects were used and valued in medieval society.
These beautiful glass cups, found in treasuries across Europe, are unlike any other medieval objects of glass or rock crystal from the Islamic world, Byzantium or western Christiandom. The group is named after Saint Hedwig of Silesia (d. 1243), a Germanic queen who was canonized as a saint for her piety—which extended to abstaining from wine drinking, much to the disdain and social embarrassment of her husband. Miraculously, her glass beakers, which bore the same engraving as the beakers in the exhibition, would fill with wine whenever the king’s spies were nearby. Scholars have variously argued about the origination of the beakers and many believe they were made in the medieval Islamic world. In this exhibition, Whitehouse attributes the beakers’ origination to glassmakers in Palermo, Sicily, under the reign of a Norman king. The objects likely made their way to Germany after the marriage of the king to a German noblewoman.
Videos in the galleries will illustrate how modern glassmakers have experimented with medieval techniques to identify and understand these objects in the exhibition were made.
The Corning Museum of Glass offers live glassblowing demonstrations all day, every day, as part of the visitor experience. At select shows each day during the run of the exhibition, visitors will be able to see how certain objects in the Medieval Glass exhibition were made.
The exhibition runs until January 3, 2011. The Corning Museum of Glass is located in the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State. Click here to go to their website.
Source: Corning Museum of Glass