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The History of Glass V6 | Venetian Glass

Venetian Glass

By Dr Jessamy Kelly, glass artist and educator

Between the 13th and 15th century, Venice was a key route for world trade, from which it rose to be the prominent and important glass making centre it is today. A distinct style emerged that blended Roman glass techniques with skills learned from the Byzantine empire. Venetian glass experienced a golden age during the Renaissance, creating superior products that became widely copied and imitated throughout Europe.

Figure 1 Wineglass (about 1600–1699). CMoG 63.3.12. Image licensed by The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (www.cmog.org) under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

At this time glassblowers in Venice had to be Venetian citizens and were banned from foreign travel.  In the 13th century, Glass production was moved to the island of Murano to ensure the trade secrets were kept safe and to protect the industry from outsiders. It was forbidden to divulge trade secrets. If a glassworker left the city without permission, he would be ordered to return.  If he failed, his family would be imprisoned. If he still did not return, an assassin would be sent to kill him. However, the industry was deprived of external influences which meant that the industry eventually stagnated and started to decline.

The Venetian style was widely copied and was known as Façon de Venise (Venetian fashion), a type of glass made in the style of Venetian Glass but not made in Venice itself. Often cheaper than the real thing, these imitations damaged the sale of Venetian glass.

The rise of glass as an artistic medium saw new levels of technical innovation. Early glass often had a colour-cast caused by impurities, such as metallic oxides, in the raw materials. As such clear glass was highly sought after. Venetian glass evolved to be blown very thin, effectively diluting the colour cast, and making it look clear. A major breakthrough came in 1450 when Angelo Barovier developed Cristallo glass. Cristallo is a nearly colourless glass which emulated rock crystal (see figure 1). It was usually combined with opulent decorative techniques such as enamelling and gilding which were painted on top.

Also of interest, is this fine example of a filigrana wine glass made from a delicate case of white glass canes on a thin layer of cristallo. This wine glass is known as the Rosenborg type, it was made for the Danish king, Frederick IV and were sent to castle Rosenborg (see figure 2).

A true feat of Venetian glass making is this 17th century dragon-stem goblet which has a serpent with wings for its stem. The style has its origin in the Baroque period (see figure3). Glass artist Bill Gudenrath, is one of a few contemporary craftsmen who have perfected this technique; watch an online demonstration of Bill making a dragon-stem goblet at the Corning Museum of Glass, in America.



Figure 4. Bowl (1600–1699). CMoG 9.3.1108. Gift of the Ruth Bryan Strauss Memorial Foundation.Image licensed by The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (www.cmog.org) under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Renaissance saw a mania for hardstones such as chalcedony, agate, jade, jasper, bloodstone, prase, topaz and lapis lazuli spread across Europe. Venetian glassmakers began to imitate these materials in their glass creating intricate, coloured effects. This Calcedonio bowl is in the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass and is also known as agate glass. It is an excellent example of this technique which sees a light opaque background mixed with warm and darker tones of coloured oxides creating the streaky agate, or quartz-like, effect (see figure 4).

Highly innovative, the Venetian glassmakers experimented with Roman glass techniques, a range of typical Venetian glassblowing techniques developed from what was known as mosaic glass. Renowned for decorating their glass vessels with brightly coloured cane and fine filigree. Techniques such as millefiori (thousand flowers) were created. Multi-coloured glass rods were bundled together, rather like spaghetti, fused & then stretched to make to make a new rod with the pattern. A similar process to extruding making sweets such as sticks of rock.  Slices were then cut off, assembled to make a  pattern & fused together to create a sheet of glass which could be rolled up into vessel forms containing a pattern of tiny delicate flowers (see figure 5). These techniques survive today and are widely practiced in the studio glass community.

Next month we will look at the development of crystal from 17th and 18th century, with early examples from Germany and Bohemia and the development of lead crystal by George Ravenscroft in London, in 1674.

By Dr Jessamy Kelly

Jessamy Kelly is a glass artist and educator based in Edinburgh, she has worked as a freelance glass designer for Cumbria Crystal since 2016. She is the designer of the Loop and Palm collections.


Do you have any questions or feedback? We would very much like you to share by emailing verity@cumbriacrystal.com

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As seen on screen with Cumbria Crystal

Over the past few decades, Cumbria Crystal has graced our big, and small, screens countless times.

Why does it appear to be the Crystal of choice for the industry you ask? Firstly, due to the lead crystal content, it offers incredible shine and sparkle under studio lights. Secondly, our Grasmere collection – which is the collection of choice for the industry – fits perfectly into stories set in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Below we share some examples of our crystal in motion and we very much welcome you to get in touch if you have seen our collections grace your screen at any point verity@cumbriacrystal.com

Grasmere Highball featured in The Crown (Netflix)

Casino Royale

Thanks to 007, our Grasmere Double Old Fashioned Whiskey glass is our most popular item with customers around the world enjoying their favourite whiskey or bourbon from this vessel. It is after a close shave in the 2006 film that Bond decides to calm his nerves with something strong from our very own glass. We have the exact moment right here for you to watch.

Purchase Grasmere Double Old Fashioned Whiskey Glass (inc. free premium gift box)

Sherlock Holmes

Set just before the turn of the 20th century in 1891, we see Holmes and Watson (Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law) enjoying – or rather squabbling over – champagne from our Vintage style glasses whilst Holmes older brother, Mycroft (Steven Fry) sips a suspected dark rum from the same glass that 007 favours.

Purchase a set of Grasmere Vintage Champagne Flutes (inc. free premium gift box)

Downton Abbey

We are extremely proud to have supplied all the crystal for the filming of Downton Abbey for both the series and film. Our Grasmere collection fits perfectly with the early 20th century setting and aristocratic lifestyle of the Crawleys.

We have specifically chosen the clip above as not only does it show our crystal in motion at Downton but it features one of our wonderful team members Hilary Frankland who, after 23 years as our lead crystal marker, is retiring.

Wishing you a happy and healthy retirement Hilary from all at Cumbria Crystal, customers, followers and friends.

double old fashion whisky tumbler

Where else have you spotted our crystal? Maybe you have taken a trip to the cinema or began a new box set and thought you recognised what the characters are drinking from?

Sometimes we work directly with the production company to provide our crystal for their sets but other times they are supplied via prop companies so we know we have appeared in many pieces of media we are yet to discover. Do drop us an email if you have any information to share with us verity@cumbriacrystal.com

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The History of Glass V5 | Byzantine Glass

Byzantine Glass

By Dr Jessamy Kelly, glass artist and educator

This month we will discuss the epoch of Byzantine Glass from the Middle East, which saw an elevated demand as high-end, luxury objects spread around the world, widely dispersing Islamic glass through trade.

Figure 1 Glass flask, blown glass, 4th–6th century A.D. Early Byzantine, Roman, Syrian. Image courtesy of the Met Museum.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Western glass making was seriously affected. However, in the East, highly decorative glass continued to flourish with a range of mosaics, kiln cast and blown glass vessels produced during this period.

The Byzantine Empire was the continued legacy of the Roman Empire in the East during late antiquity (284AD-700AD) into the middle-ages (5th– 15th century). Constantinople, known today as Istanbul, was the capital of the Roman Empire, in Turkey. When considering Byzantine glass from this period, it is apparent that there is a superfluity of technique and process.

During the 9th century decorative techniques were pioneered, including metallic stains which created a lustre. Into the 10th & 11th century cast and cut vessels were improved upon with some very fine examples created. Between the 12th and 14th centuries gilding and enamelling techniques were pioneered, creating beautifully ornate designs on the glass.

Byzantine glass makers were based in the Levant, better known today as Syria and Palestine. They worked in a distinct style, notable examples from this period include glass drinking flasks that have a u-shaped mouth, where the mouth of the bottle is like a cylindrical funnel usually with fine threads of glass wound around the neck, often with handles to aid pouring (see figure 1). Or, a swan shaped neck, where the delicate neck of the bottle is twisted back (see figure 2). These are often called ashkdans and were apparently for collecting the tears of wives whose husbands were fighting wars. 

Mosaics were a huge part of the Roman Empire and exceptional examples were created during the Byzantine period. Mosaics are images or patterns created from numerous small pieces of coloured stone, glass or ceramic set with mortar and were often used as floor or wall decoration. This beautiful panel (see figure 3) is a mix of marble and glass tesserae. It depicts a woman with very detailed jewellery holding a measuring tool, with a man offering a cornucopia to her left. The piece was restored by the Met Museum and is held in their collection.

Our final example is a beautifully enamelled and gilded glass candlestick. The surface is completely covered in Islamic geometric patterns, which include hand-painted hexagons and stars that encircle the piece (see figure 4). It is a fine example of Mamluk art from the late 14th and 15th centuries, the inscription on the piece is dedicated to a Mamluk sultan. The Mamluk capital Cairo, became a centre of trade in the Islamic world which created an economic, cultural and artistic hub.



Figure 4. Candlestick, enamelled and gilded blown glass, probably Egypt, about 1340-1365. Image courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass.

Next month we will look at Venetian Glass from the 15th-17th Centuries, a style emerged that blended Roman glass making techniques with skills learned from the Byzantine Empire. Located at the European end of the famous Silk Road, which stretched all the way to China, Venice became a great trading centre and the most important glass-making centre in the world.

By Dr Jessamy Kelly

Jessamy Kelly is a glass artist and educator based in Edinburgh, she has worked as a freelance glass designer for Cumbria Crystal since 2016. She is the designer of the Loop and Palm collections.


Do you have any questions or feedback? We would very much like you to share by emailing verity@cumbriacrystal.com

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3 places to see beautiful stained glass in England

Inspired by Volume 4 of our The History of Glass series – which focuses on Medieval Glass – we decided to highlight 3 beautiful examples of stained glass within England that you can go and visit during the summer.

Photo by Luca Lago on Unsplash

  1. St Paul’s Monastery, Jarrow (Tyne and Wear)

The monastery at Jarrow was one of Europe’s most influential centres of learning and culture in the 7th century. The remains standing today are from the medieval monastery, but part of the Anglo-Saxon monastery survives today as the chancel of St Paul’s Church.

Visiting information Free to enter and open any reasonable time during daylight hours. Sat nav NE32 2DY.

Reconstructed stained glass made from excavated glass from St Paul’s Church, Jarrow, Courtesy of the Jarrow Hall Museum Collection

However, to see Europe’s largest collection of Saxon Coloured Window Glass you will need to make your way over to Jarrow Hall around the corner from the church.

2. St Lawrence Jewry, City of London

The official church to the Lord Mayor of London, this place of worship was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren (St Paul’s Cathedral). Understated compared to its designers grander projects, this baroque building was extensively damaged during the Second World War but still remained standing and was made a listed building in 1950.

Visiting information Equidistant to 4 Tube stations: Bank (Exit 9), Mansion House, St. Paul’s and Moorgate. EC2V 5AA (next to Guildhall).

Wikipedia

Want a deeper stained-glass fix whilst in London? Hot foot your way across the city to the splendid V&A museum (free entry) where you will find a very good collection of glass from Egyptian to the present day.

3. Claife Heights Viewing Station, Ambleside (Cumbria)

On the shores of the largest lake in England you will find this viewing station built in the 1790s which offers breath-taking views of Windermere and its surrounding area.

Best known for its dinner dances in 1830s and 40s – which had the exciting novelty of being reached by boat – the building had windows tinted with coloured glass, designed to recreate the landscape under different seasonal conditions. Yellow created a summer landscape, orange an autumn one, light green for spring, dark blue for moonlight and so on.

Although open air and inclined to be classed as ruins, the National Trust have restored the remaining structure bringing back the coloured glass to provide the 21st century visitor with a similar visual experience guests had 200 years ago.

Visiting information Take the ferry from Bowness on Windermere and you are just a few minutes away from this location where there is also a café. Sat nav LA22 0LR.

Did you know you are only 40 minutes – and a beautiful along-the-lake drive – from the Cumbria Crystal shop and factory? Come and see our artisans at work and get to see our luxurious crystal for yourself. Just head to Ulverston and we are opposite Booths at the entrance to the town (sat nav LA12 7LB).

Do you have a favourite spot featuring stained or coloured glass? Let us know via social media or email verity@cumbriacrystal.com Photographs are always welcomed.

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The History of Glass V4 | Medieval glass

Medieval glass

By Dr Jessamy Kelly, glass artist and educator

This month we are looking at Medieval Glass from the middle-ages, which has a wide spanning history from the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century A.D.), when many glass-making techniques were forgotten or lost, until the rise of the Byzantine Empire. Over time many forgotten glass techniques were rediscovered and glass-making began to flourish once again, alongside luxurious glass imported from the Middle East, with a number of outstanding historical examples worthy of discussion.

Figure 1 Reconstructed stained glass made from excavated glass from St Paul’s Church, Jarrow, Courtesy of the Jarrow Hall Museum Collection

Medieval Glass usually evokes a strong image of stained-glass windows, which were the foremost pictorial art form of the time. These illuminated biblical narratives would have been hugely influential to the beholder and been central to religious life. In the 5th & 6th centuries window glass, in the form of small clear roundels, were introduced to Britain by the Romans. However, this went out of use when the Roman legions left.

In the 7th century, early pioneers in the North-East of England introduced some of the first stained-glass windows to Anglo-Saxon England – including York Minister; St Peters Church in Sunderland and the Monkwearmouth Jarrow monastery, home to the venerable Bede, an enlightened scholar of the time.

A significant example is a reconstructed stained-glass panel made from excavated glass from St Paul’s Church, Jarrow (see figure 1). The cultural significance of this piece is the likely connection with the scholar Bede, a monk at the monastery in Jarrow in the early 6th century who wrote about the Abbott Biscop who travelled to France to find specialist glaziers to fit stained glass windows into the St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth Sunderland.

English glassmaking is rumoured to have developed near Sunderland as the high-quality sand needed to make glass, could replace the traditional ballast used in French trading ships, creating a commercial advantage for the shippers & eventually an established trading route.

These sites are now recognised as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The stained glass within them would have been likely inspired by windows seen on pilgramages to France, Germany & Italy. Jarrow Hall in the North-East of England has the largest European Collection of 7th & 8th century coloured window glass from excavated finds at the site.

Moving away from architectural glass, German Wald Glass or Forest Glass stems from the late medieval period (1000-1200 AD) and has a distinctive green colour due to iron impurities present in the sand used to make it. A key ingredient in the production of this glass was potash, which came from the ashes of trees or ferns from the forest, hence the name. It was an early example of craftsman using local materials that were to hand. Decorated beakers and bottles (see figures 2 & 3) became very popular during this time. Practical in form they often had decorative trails and prunts applied by the glassblower. It is thought these motifs were added to stop the glass slipping through the hand, possibly when eating greasy foods.


Figure 4 Beaker with Lions (1175–1225). CMoG 67.1.11. Image licensed by The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (www.cmog.org) under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Our final example is the Hedwig Beakers, ornate drinking glasses from the 12th century. They are elaborately decorated with Christian iconography including lions, griffins and eagles however, their origin is from the Middle East. Historians suggest that they were possibly crafted by Muslim craftsmen during the crusades and were likely made for export to Europe, or for Christian clients. The glasses take their name from a Silesian princess, Saint Hedwig. Their origins are widely disputed and could be from Egypt, Iran or Syria. In total, 14 glasses of this type have been found, all have similar decorations and shape, made from a smoky grey glass with a greenish or yellowish tinge. Made to imitate rock crystal – an extremely luxurious material in the middle-ages; it is thought that they may have been part of a chalice (see figure 4).

Next month we will discuss the epoch of Byzantine Glass from the middle east spanning the 10th to 15th centuries, which were in demand as high-end, luxury objects around the world.

By Dr Jessamy Kelly

Jessamy Kelly is a glass artist and educator based in Edinburgh, she has worked as a freelance glass designer for Cumbria Crystal since 2016. She is the designer of the Loop and Palm collections.


Do you have any questions or feedback? We would very much like you to share by emailing verity@cumbriacrystal.com

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The Artisans | Part One

“For the artisan, craft is an end in itself. For you, the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing your vision. Craft is the visible edge of art.”

David Bayles Author of Art and Fear

It a rarity nowadays to have a luxury product made entirely by hand yet accessible to most. Whether you are wanting to purchase entire collections for your home, looking for a hand-engraved wedding gift or simply want a piece or two of luxury crystal to enjoy your favourite tipple in; we welcome you.

Teams of three or five highly skilled glass makers work together to produce each Cumbria Crystal product, in what appears to be a choreographed alchemists dance. Lead crystal is gathered from the furnace at a temperature of 1240 degrees Celsius. It is then blown into a graphite or steel mould by the blower before being handed to the servitor who casts on extra glass, using a traditional factory technique rarely seen today, to create the stem and foot. This is achieved by hand, using using wood and metal tools that haven’t changed in 2000 years.

Even today it typically it takes 15 years to train a glass blower.

Once blown the product is passed to the apprentice who cracks it off the blowing-iron and places it into the annealing lehr (kiln) to slowly cool overnight, before it moves to the next stage of production.

A typical product takes 12 days to create from start to finish.

Liquid crystal, fierce flames, intense heat, precision moulds, finesse blowing, precise marvering, perfect forming, crystal fusing. This short film takes you on a journey of the beginnings of the creation of our popular Goblet shape. Experience our glass blowers working together to create a unique piece of crystal using simply their talent and tools that date back centuries. View our range of Goblets here.

Our viewing platform is now open once again so if you happen to be visiting the beautiful Lake District make sure to come to the wonderful market town of Ulverston and watch the artisans at work before your very eyes.

Thanks go to DVG Creative who produced this short film.

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The History of Glass V3 | Roman glass

Roman glass

By Dr Jessamy Kelly, glass artist and educator

The cultural and social significance of ancient glass, is a wide reaching, rich and varied topic, this blog is a journey through glass history from ancient glass right up to present day. This month we are looking at Roman glass.

Cage Cup (probably 300-399). CMoG 87.1.1. Purchased with funds from the Arthur Rubloff Residuary Trust. Image licensed by The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY (www.cmog.org) under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In the 1st century BC, glassblowing was developed in Syria. By AD 50 it became the leading glass forming technique completely revolutionizing how glass had been produced for thousands of years. Glass blowing is, a glass forming technique that involves the inflation of molten glass using a hollow metal pipe, called a blowing iron, to inflate a glass bubble, which can then be manipulated into a wide range of vessel shapes of varying sizes. This technique was quicker and easier than other earlier techniques, making glass vessels considerably more affordable. This was especially true when glass was blown into terracotta moulds enabling large numbers of products to be produced quickly.

Glass blowing as a technique quickly spread through the Roman Empire from the eastern Mediterranean to the west. By the 1st century AD, the Roman glass industry grew exponentially, due to a period of advanced technical growth. A range of decorative finishing techniques were developed such as gilding, enamelling and painting. Techniques were developed during this era that enabled exceptionally high-quality cut and engraved products to be produced. Cage cups, such as the Lycurgus Cup (see figure 1), were made and are a true feat of glass-cutting technology, where a thick blown glass vessel is painstakingly cut away to create a design which is connected to the wall of the vessel by small bridges hidden behind the decoration. A truly amazing example of this is the Lycurgus Cup which depicts an ill-fated king who is seen being strangled by vines after taunting Dionysos, the ancient Greek God of wine. What is particularly of note about this cup is that it is made from dichroic glass, where small nano-particles of gold and silver are mixed into the glass so that it changes from a green colour when lit from in front, to red, when lit from inside or behind the cup.

Around the turn of the 1st century BC/AD cameo cut glass vessels were introduced, the most famous example of this style being the Portland vase, which is housed in the British Museum, London (see figure 3). This vase is an excellent example of Roman cameo glass, a hot glass bubble of one colour glass was encased in an outer layer of another colour. Once cooled the outer layers were cut away to create a design in relief. The most common colour scheme of Roman cameo glass was opaque white over transparent dark blue.


Renowned for their love of feasting, Roberto Bompiani shows his extensive research into a range of ancient artefacts in this painted feast scene (see figure 4). The authenticity of the painting is supported by research of the frescoes, marble, tables, lamps, and vessels all were drawn from Greek, Roman, and Etruscan sources. An intricate footed glass bowl and large drinking vessels are part of this opulent scene, which indicates the social context and frivolity of this feast and the use of glass; which is something which we can all connect with – socialising with friends over fine wine and food. As a form of storytelling the painting brings these historical artefacts back to life and makes us think about their significance and meaning.


Figure 4.  A Roman Feast by Roberto Bompiani (late 19th century), oil on canvas. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Next month’s newsletter will introduce Medieval Glass, from AD 400-1066, including green forest glass and some outstanding examples of Medieval stained glass.

By Dr Jessamy Kelly

Jessamy Kelly is a glass artist and educator based in Edinburgh, she has worked as a freelance glass designer for Cumbria Crystal since 2016.


Do you have any questions or feedback? We would very much like you to share by emailing verity@cumbriacrystal.com

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Our top five films to watch with your father

Whether you are lucky enough to visit your father in person this year or have arranged a Zoom call with him, here are 5 films we believe are perfect to watch on Father’s Day this year.

You may be the father yourself reading this, so feel free to send this list of suggestions to your children and pencil in some time to share together and watch something you will both enjoy.

Photo by Noom Peerapong on Unsplash

  1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crudsade (1989)

Let’s start with the classic father and son on-screen duo; junior and dad. This Steven Spielberg film sees Dr Jones embarking on a journey to save his father who disappeared whilst searching for the Holy Grail. Whether you are revisiting – or viewing for the first time – be ready for adventure, laughter and a feeling of relief that your own father isn’t a professor of medieval literature!

2. Vertigo (1958)

Want to watch the greatest film of all time with your father? This 1958 box office flop reached the top spot in Sight and Sound’s – once every decade – poll. An Alfred Hitchcock film, not for the faint hearted, which follows Detective Scottie who suffers from acrophobia and is hired to investigate the strange activities of an old friend’s wife. At over 60 years old, don’t expect incredible visual artistry but do expect to be gripped by the intense storyline.

3. Like Father (2018)

Not every father-child relationship is plain sailing and this film beautifully demonstrates the complexities of a relationship that we are taught is enduring and unshakable. When a woman is ditched at the alter, she is left to bond with her estranged father on, what was to be, her honeymoon cruise. The sensational Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer make, what could be deemed as fluff on paper, a piece that is deep, emotional and very true to reality for some.

4. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

This film – based on a true story – is a true testament to the enduring love of a father who wants to do everything he can to provide for his son for a better life. Newly separated, financially broke and living on the streets with his son he takes on a 6-month unpaid internship and lives off hope, determination and the chance of a better life.

5. Casino Royale (2006)

There had to be a Bond film featured amongst the list and so we chose the one that also features our very own crystal. We join Daniel Craig on his first mission as 007 where Bond must defeat a banker funding terrorists in a high-stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, Montenegro. Expect the classic car chases, stunning scenery and close shaves we have come to expect from the films inspired by Ian Fleming’s literature.

double old fashion whisky tumbler

Want to gift your father something he can enjoy for years to come? Our bestselling crystal glass – Grasmere Double Old Fashioned Whisky Tumbler – was used by Daniel Craig during Casino Royale and is the perfect present for 20 June 2021. Our team of artisans are currently handcrafting theses glasses as quickly as they can, but due to huge demand there is an 8 week lead time.

However, if you order today – stating in your order notes you would like a commission letter – we will send you an IOU you can gift to your father on the day whilst he waits to receive his gift boxed, crystal glass in the near future.

Plus, enter the code PREMIUM, and receive Free UK Mainland Postage (worth £18).

Purchase Grasmere Double Old Fashioned Whisky Tumbler

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The History of Glass V2 | Hellenistic Glass 325 BC – AD 400

Hellenistic Glass 325 BC – AD 400

By Dr Jessamy Kelly, glass artist and educator

Examining the many facets of a glass artefact and imagining the stories it can tell can be an inspiring and evocative experience. Ancient glass artefacts can act as bridges to the past, by understanding how they were made and used and the unique social and spiritual values they embody.

Figure 1. Glass mosaic ribbed bowl late 1st century B.C.–early 1st century A.D. Image courtesy of the Met Museum

This series of articles can be viewed as a gateway through which to navigate the cultural significance of glass through time. This month we are delving into the Hellenistic period, a rich and colourful chapter of ancient glass history, which includes the years between the reign of Alexander the Great and the early years of the Roman Empire. Glass artefacts from this period can be traced back across a wide span of regions from the Mediterranean to Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Much of the glass produced during this era predates glass blowing, the style is exemplified by the process by which glass vessels were produced using a kiln[1]. Key techniques such as mosaic glass became the hallmark of this period, fairly large bowls and platters created from colourful canes of glass. The canes were laid into a mould and then heated in a kiln so that they became fused and slumped together to form a colourful mosaic. The vessels were made up of many small spirals and stars arranged in a range of bright or mono-chromatic glass colours (see Figure 1).

A further example is lacework or reticella glass, which was created from spirals of twisted glass canes known as tesserae which were assembled next to each other to form intricate patterns (see Figure 2). Mosaic glass was a highly sophisticated technique, the main drawback was the labour, as it was extremely time consuming to form and polish the glass. Over time, it was replaced by glass blowing which was much more efficient. Today, fused glass has evolved from this origin to be a wide and highly technical subset of kiln forming.


[1] an oven or furnace used for processing glass by high firing it in a mould, kilns are also used in pottery.

Figure 2. Lace Mosaic Bowl, Roman Empire, Italy, 225-100 BCE. Image courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass

A topic close to many of our hearts is wine. The cultivation of grapes for wine making, predates the Hellenistic Age, but during this epoch it became widely popularised and many glass drinking vessels were made for lavish social events that focused on drinking and feasting. This Levantine wine cup was an early kiln formed example, the glass would have been placed in a wooden foot as the disc shaped based would have been unstable (see Figure 3). The base would have been very useful and connects us to a universal concern that we may damage our glasses through use.

Figure 3. Levantine, Amber glass wine cup, moulded glass, Levant (modern day Syria) (ca. 100 BC-AD 100). Image courtesy of the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam.

The final artefact for your consideration is a mythical story from a Persian poem about Alexander the Great, who had a diving bell made out of glass (see Figure 4).  

An elaborate, rather comical story was told of how curious Alexander was of the sea and how he was lowered down in his diving bell along with a dog, a cat, and a cock to explore the ocean. He entrusted his wife with the chain that could pull the bell back up to the surface, unfortunately she eloped with her lover and threw the chain away, so he had to devise his own escape. Many stories were written about Alexander to document his daring and outlandish exploit, this story resonates for me because of the period from which it originates, in that it centres glass as an innovative material and makes the impossible seem possible, could this really have happened?

Figure 4. Alexander the Great under Water by Jansen Enikel, Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. Tempera colors, gold, silver paint, and ink on parchment, about 1400 – 1410, Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Next month’s newsletter will introduce Roman Glass, during the 1st century AD the Roman revolutionised the glass industry with the introduction of glassblowing, establishing glass as a widely available and popular material for vessels.

By Dr Jessamy Kelly

Jessamy Kelly is a glass artist and educator based in Edinburgh, she has worked as a freelance glass designer for Cumbria Crystal since 2016.


Do you have any questions or feedback? We would very much like you to share by emailing verity@cumbriacrystal.com

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In conversation with Hamilton & Inches

We recently sat down with Hamilton & Inches CEO, Victoria Houghton, to ask her all about the incredibly inspiring company that she works for whom we are proud to call one of our esteemed partners.

Cumbria Crystal and Hamilton & Inches have worked together for many years now with great synergy. Whilst we strive to be one of the best in the world when it comes to luxury crystal glass, you do the same regarding hand-crafted silver. Tell us about the journey attached to this endeavour, the history of the brand and details regarding the market you operate within.

Hamilton & Inches was founded by Robert Kirk Inches and his uncle James Hamilton in 1866. We have celebrated many key milestones including being first granted a Royal Warrant more than 120 years ago, appointed “His Majesty’s Clockmaker and Keeper and Dresser of His Majesty’s Clocks, Watches and Pendulums in Palaces and Houses in his Ancient Kingdom of Scotland”. Although the original title no longer remains, in 2010 Hamilton & Inches was appointed “Silversmiths and Clock Specialists to her Majesty The Queen”.

We have maintained our own onsite workshops since inception, housing a team of highly skilled craftspeople, including master polishers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and engravers; all of whom have honed their craft through the knowledge and skills passed down from previous generations. Alongside the team we have invested in exclusive facilities for some of the world’s finest jewellery collections. Delivering an authentic and bespoke service, alongside a contemporary and luxurious offering, the specialist team at Hamilton & Inches provides clients with an unforgettable experience.

Hamilton & Inches has stood the test of time, with 155 years of passion, creativity, artistry, and dedication to craftsmanship.

Your team of craftspeople consists of silversmiths, goldsmiths, polishers and engravers. Like Cumbria Crystal, you are committed to the heritage crafts using traditional techniques. Can you tell us a little more about that? How long does it take to create a single item?

Our team are a blend of masters and apprentices, a group of unassuming friends who, when put to task, create pieces of magic. They are incredibly diverse in age, in culture, in inspiration and technique but one thing unites them; they have crafted some of the finest pieces of silverware and jewellery in the world.

For 155 years they have passed their knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. We are fortunate to have several specialists in a variety of fields, who continue to keep the crafts alive through the H&I Academy.

Our two-resident hand-engravers are exceptional artists, who work using their expert eye and perfectly steady hands. Each piece of work they undertake has their own unique footprint, from their individualistic styles to their own distinctive artistic nuances.

Our silversmith team, Panos, David, Paul, George, and Ruth have over 59 years of silversmithing experience between them, in that time creating exceptional items for the worlds of rugby, football, whisky, education and more. They have created candelabras and bookmarks and tumble cups and dinosaurs; each with their own unique style, all with absolute devotion.

Colin Golder is our award-winning polisher who celebrates his 30-year anniversary with us this year. His keen eye for detail is vital to the design and production of our silver, guiding how pieces will be assembled to ensure that they can be polished effectively.

Alan and Jenna (left) are our expert goldsmiths, tasked with taking care of exceptional items of jewellery and creating new, ranges including our exclusive Scottish Gold Collection and The H&I Engagement Collection.

The length of time required to create one item depends on the exacting requirements of the client. Although each job varies, from the University of Glasgow Mace which took over 100 hours of work (and a year from brief to completion) to our silver Luna earrings which are hand-crafted every day, the dedication and devotion applied to the craft of each piece is constant.

We both develop bespoke items for customers on request. Can you share with us what that process looks like for Hamilton & Inches?

We have been handcrafting bespoke silverware, fine jewellery and sporting awards for generations.

The commission process begins by outlining the design concept. This can be inspired by something a customer already owns, a sketch or an idea. Our team will then work to create initial sketches before the client reviews, prior to preparing full design drawings so you can see your piece coming to life.

Once the drawings have been reviewed and agreed our expert teams will begin to craft the piece in our Edinburgh workshops. Each element crafted by hand, the care and devotion of our craftspeople is truly visible in each and every piece our team create. 

On April 26th you opened your doors open to your newly refurbished showroom in Edinburgh, which I am sure our readers will love to visit when venturing afar is a little easier. Tell us what has changed and what we can expect.

Dedicated to enhancing the customer experience, we recently embarked on an incredible transformation, with elegant upgrades taking place across its showroom, workshops, and service department, creating a space that celebrates heritage whilst innovating with contemporary design.

To accentuate the glamour of the new showroom, we implemented a striking new store front, which sees us rejuvenate our original design, installing curved glass panels set in an antique bronze, with jewellery displayed on a carved breccia marble plinth topped in silk.

Our new interior features, influenced by historic photographs of the Victorian Hamilton & Inches, include an extravagant traditional design palette, reimagined for today. Every new detail accentuates the ornate historic elements of the dramatic Georgian ceiling, alongside chandelier lighting, which creates a generous glow that spills out onto George Street.

We have a beautifully curated new lifestyle area situated within the showroom beside the 19th century Adam fireplace which offers clients a space where they can drop in to shop, and stay for a cup of coffee, or a glass of champagne. We incorporated residential elements into a retail environment to achieve an inviting and comfortable atmosphere.

At Cumbria Crystal, having a partnership with such a high-level silversmith allows us to develop products which are of the highest, luxury quality in both crystal and silver. How has working with us enabled to expand your offering to your own customer base?

Partnering with likeminded suppliers, who value quality allows us to expand our offering knowing that what we produce will meet company standards and the expectations of our clients.

We currently have a beautiful selection of Cumbria Crystal items on our website and in the showroom and we’re working on an exciting new barware collection which heavily features crystal, including a unique crystal and silver cocktail shaker.

Custom commissions continue to be created in the Hamilton & Inches workshops today, using the ancient skills and crafts essential to creating iconic items that will be remembered and celebrated forever, including bespoke silver and crystal designs.

Which is your most popular hand-crafted item?

The Double Oval Link Pendant in Sterling Silver from the Luna jewellery Collection is our most popular silver item, designed and hand-crafted in the workshops above the showroom by our silversmith, Ruth Page.

It is inspired by the natural landscape of the moon, and the collection name comes from the Latin word luna, meaning moon. The textured silver finish is inspired by the surface of the moon with countless volcanoes and craters. The interlocking silver links reflect light like moonlight dancing on the water’s edge.

Explore the Cumbria Crystal x Hamilton & Inches collection

Visit Hamilton & Inches online or at their stunning showroom at 87 George Street, Edinburgh.