Since the early ages of ancient civilizations, glass as a material has had an important place in human life. It has been utilized in many different forms ; from jewellery to weaponry and lately industry. During its 4500 years long journey, since its first invention, the quality, the chemical as well as the composition and the decoration of glass has changed dramatically.
Glass; the transparent, semi-transparent or sometimes opaque solid material is made of silica, potassium or soda, lime or occasionally some other chemicals, melted together and left to cool in room temperature to form its known amorphous, non-crystaline form.
Other than its artificial form it is found in nature as either obsidian or rock crystal. Obsidian, a dark vitreous lava material was known and used as the tip of spears or arrows in Anatolia, Mexico and South America thousands of years ago. Rock crystal which is a sort of natural quartz is almost colorless and semi-transparent. It was also used by some ancient civilizations. Some of the earliest evidences of the use of this natural material by natives are found at Troia (Anatolia) in the form of the head of a lion statue from the late 3rd millenium BC and also 14th century BC Hittite statues, also found in Anatolia.
The artificial glass was first used to cover the surface of stone or ceramic beads in 3500 - 3000 BC, Mesopotamia. Later, in 2500 BC, the beads and amulets were all made of glass. The all-glass pots were first made in the 15th century BC, again in Mesopotamia. The oldest examples we have from this era were made for III. Tutmozis in 1470 BC. He brought glass makers to Egypt from Asia after his invasion of Asia. This was the birth of the first glass industry in Egypt. They used inner molding technique for glassware production until the 11th century BC. The glass industry in Egypt was interrupted between 11th and 4th centuries BC. After Alexandria was established in 332 BC, glass production became a dominant industry again. The famous Millefiori bowls became the symbol of the glorious glassware range produced in Alexandria. It is also known that there was a considerable glass trade from Egypt to Greece and Italy in the 3rd century BC and the following centuries.
The glass industry started in Italy as early as 8th century BC and used inner molding technique until glassmakers from Alexandria arrived in the 1st century BC.. The Syrian glassmakers invented the technique of glass blowing in 50 BC. After these two important events the famous Roman glassmaking tradition was born.
The thin, light and elegant Roman glassmaking tradition which was based on the blowing technique soon spread to all provinces of the Roman Empire; from Italy to Greece, Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and even to Alexandria.
The artistic and decorative Roman glassmaking tradition was in decline in Europe soon after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. The traditon found a new home in the east, Byzantine, known also as the East Roman Empire. The window-glass and mosaic wall-decoration became the center focus of the Byzantine glassmaking. The capital of the empire, Constantinople (Istanbul) was the center of glass making in Byzantine. They imported glassware for daily use from Syria, Palestine and Alexandria.
The fine workmanship and the emphasis on detail were important features of Roman glass making traditions. After the fall of the empire,there was a sudden decline in the quality of glass in Europe. Even the 5th to the 8th centuries famous Frank - Merovenj era glassware did not have the same clarity and transparency featured in the early Roman pieces. These were thick edged glasswares with sand and bubble traces.
Other than the well known decorative figures of the early Roman tradition such as the slough of a snake, we see new figures such as claw beaker during this era. The glassmakers in Germany, France, south Netherland, Bohemia and Rhine regions were using a derivative of Frank glass, known as forest glass or "Waldglas" . The potassium rich ashes of trees were used to melt the glass mixture in this region instead of the ashes of barilla (a sea plant) used by the glass makers in Alexandria. The extra potassium content gave a green, gray and brownlike color to the central European glass of this period.
During the same period the glass makers in Persia and Mesopotamia were using the cutting technique to create artistic and luxurious forms with glass. There were factories in this region producing glasswares with Roman and Greek decorative figures as well as new forms and figures, some of which would constitute a bridge between the Roman and the newly arriving Islamic forms and traditions.
During the 7th and 8th centuries the Middle East, parts of Asia and north Africa were invaded by Islamic Arab forces. Initially the invaders were strongly influenced by the local cultural, artistic and technological trends and traditions. The Islamic glass tradition created very original forms and techniques only after the turn of the new millenium. Various different forms of decorative glassware were made for Memluk Sultans in the 13th and 14th centuries. Damascus and Aleppo were two important centers of glass making during the early Islamic period.
The glass objects produced in the Islamic countries were first introduced to Europe by crusaders. They were widely admired by Europeans. After the invasion of Timur, the Islamic glass tradition eroded badly. But its influence created a new offspring in Venice. Soon, Venice beccame the world capital of high quality glass making.
The early glassware produced in Venice predominantly had enamel and gilt on blue, green and pink backgrounds. Later on the typical Renaissance themes were used on world-famous Cristallo glasses. At one stage classical Roman designs became a major inspiration for the Venice producers. Millefiori, Aventurine and Chalcedony were best examples of this period. Infact these early forms protected their popularity among the north European customers but most of the European glass market prefered new forms and techniques. Surface-cracked, enamel coated or back-surface painted, simple but elegant forms became more popular. Especially after the17th century, new forms and figures as well as the invention of new heavy glass mixtures caused the tradition of Venice to loose all its importance.
New varieties of glass dominated the markets in the early 17th century. The Bohemian glass with its potassium and limestone mixture created a new dimension with its strength and clear look in glass technology. This technique was first used in Prague before 1600. Then it was used in Nurnberg during the 2nd half of 17th century and finally reached its peak popularity in Postdam.
The lead mixed potassium-limestone based glass was first created by George Ravenscroft in 1674, England. The bright look and suitability to cut and shave gave a good reputation to this glass.
After the 1830s, the enamel covered and colorful Bohemian glasswares (Biedermeier style) were dominating Europe. This style was copied by French and British makers for a long time.
The Ottomans came into the colorful world of glass manufacturing in the middle of the 19th century with very artistic and creative figures and styles. These "Turkish style" glasswares were very popular in Europe during the 19th century.
During the late 19th century, Bohemian glasses became less popular and were replaced by new materials, forms and styles created by the glass makers in Britain, France and even the USA.
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