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Burial Inscription

Unknown Artist/Maker4th century CE

The Jewish Museum, New York

The Jewish Museum, New York
New York, United States

The glassmakers of antiquity perfected a technique of decorating their vessels by sandwiching gold-leaf imagery between two layers of glass. In the third and fourth centuries C.E., this method became popular in the Roman Empire for the production of portrait medallions and vessels with ornamented bottoms. The latter, referred to as "gold glass," often contained inscriptions relating to drinking and wishes for long life, as well as pagan, Christian, or Jewish religious imagery. These vessels appear to have been given as gifts at the Roman new year festival, and at birthdays and weddings as well. A peculiarity of these gold glass vessels is that only the ornamented bases have been found, often with the edges of the vessel deliberately chipped away. In addition, those that have been found in situ come almost exclusively from underground burial complexes, where they were embedded in the wall next to a burial niche. This has led to the speculation that the gold glass vessels were used during the lifetime of the deceased and then placed next to the niche so that the survivors could identify the burial from among the multitude of others interred in the catacomb.
Of the hundreds of gold glass pieces that exist, only thirteen have been identified as Jewish. All bear elements of what came to represent the quintessential visual statement of Jewish identity after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. This includes the Torah ark, often guarded by lions, and the implements that were once used in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem: the seven-branch menorah, the palm frond bundle and etrog employed in the celebration of Sukkot, and the shofar (ram's horn). These were sometimes accompanied by inscriptions that were similar to those on non-Jewish gold glass.
The gold glass in The Jewish Museum collection is unique in several ways. The decorative scheme is dominated by the inscription, while the Temple implements are rendered inconspicuously. A small shofar is situated at the end of the third line, and a menorah at the bottom. More important, this is the only example that contains an explicitly funerary inscription, and was therefore not used during the lifetime of the deceased. The Greek inscription states "Here lies Anastasia, mother, and Esther, daughter, in peace may their sleep be. Amen." The phraseology is quite similar to that found on the hundreds of marble burial plaques placed as grave markers in the Roman-period Jewish catacombs, as is the incorporation of the Temple implements and the Hebrew word for peace. Finally, the technique which this piece was made differs from other examples of Jewish gold glass in that it is not true sandwich glass. The gold inscription was placed on a glass vessel base, but the second layer of glass was never added over the surface. A large crack in the piece suggests that perhaps it broke before completion and was thus left in this unfinished state. One can only wonder at the tragic circumstances that led to the death of a mother and her daughter and that occasioned the commission of this memorial inscription.

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  • Title: Burial Inscription
  • Creator: Unknown Artist/Maker
  • Date Created: 4th century CE
  • Location: Rome, Italy, Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: Diameter: 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
  • Type: Antiquities
  • Rights: https://thejewishmuseum.org/about-this-site#terms-conditions
  • External Link: View this object at thejewishmuseum.org
  • Medium: Glass: free-blown; gold leaf

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