The production of glass in Egypt and the countries of the Middle East dates from the 4th millennium BC. In the 1st century BC, the invention of the glassmaker’s blowing iron in the Middle East brought about a revolution in the technique of glass production. Glass-blowing made it possible to mass-produce vessels in an extremely wide variety of shapes, and metallic oxides could be added to create the desired colour effects. In the 1st century BC, glass-blowing workshops were established in Syria and in Alexandria, where they recreated the shapes of late Hellenistic metal vessels in glass. Italy adopted the technique from these workshops and brought them to new fruition. Other production centres were established in Gaul and the Rhineland, where variations on the new technique were mastered in late antiquity.Among the most significant works of the glasscutter’s art in late antiquity is this fragment of a cage cup, which was found in 1785 at Daruvar (Croatia).The chalice-shaped cup is surrounded by basket-like openwork that has been cut from a single piece of glass. The inscription may be completed to read “FAVENTIBUS” (“for the favoured”). Vessels like this one were frequently inscribed with sayings intended to bring good fortune to the owner. This glass reflects the contemporary taste of late Roman times and perhaps served as a hanging lamp.The immensely complicated technique involved in the production of such cups, which were also called diatret glasses and of which only a few examples survive today, made them objects of high value even in antiquity. Under the emperor Constantine, glass-cutters enjoyed the same status as artists and were exempted from taxation.
© Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011