The exhibition features 211 precious glass wares from the collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Czech Republic, which were originated from several countries and regions in Europe. These artifacts with fine craftsmanship and unique designs, fully illustrate the history of glass craft in Europe from its birth to prosperity, and display all important periods in its development ranging from ancient times, then the Middle Ages to modern times together with the characteristics of every representative artistic stream. Therefore, a romantic story about the art miracle which was born in flames and has been passed on for nearly 2000 years is present to the visitors in its completeness.
A crucial landmark in the history of glass, the invention of the blowpipe by the Phoenicians in the first century B.C. facilitated the production of larger and more sophisticated artefacts. In the Hellenistic period, Alexandria and the region of present-day Syria were the centres of glass manufacture. In the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the art of glassmaking spread from those areas further to the west within the Roman Empire.
Glass in the Middle Ages
In the Early Middle Ages (after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 410), glassmaking centres sprung up in the regions of the Rhineland and Meuse River, northern France and northern Italy (Lombardy). Glass tainted with green or brown was used to make hot-formed vessels, such as beakers, goblets and bowls.
After a long hiatus, contacts between the West and East were revived in the 12th and 13th centuries, when trade relations had been established between Italy (especially Venice) and the Near East. From there,innovative techniques extended to western Europe (e.g. enamel painting).
Glass of the Renaissance Period
During the Renaissance,the ancient decorative technique of glass-cutting and engraving was revived in central Europe.Around the mid-15th century, the first objects in the millefiori and vetro a filigrana (glass with threads) techniques were made in Venice, Italy. With the emigration of glass masters from Venice,glass made in imitation of Venetian products (façon de Venise) spread throughout western and central Europe. In the last third of the 17th century, glass cutting and engraving was revived in central Europe.Underpainted glass (reverse painting on glass sheets) was another popular cold-working technique.
Glass of the Baroque and Rococo Periods
In the Baroque period, important technical innovations were introduced into the glass-melting process in order to achieve purity in glass. In central Europe, these endeavours were rewarded with success in the last quarter of the 17th century when high-quality clear, colourless glass was first produced.Due to the availability of superior colourless glass, wheel-engraving and cutting were the principal methods of cold decoration. In central Europe, the 17th century was the peak period for enamel-
painted glass. Double-walled glass was a unique decorative technique (used for beakers,goblets, plates and other objects) that was popular in Bohemia and also to some degree across the border, in Saxony, during the first half of the 18th century. Many superb examples of underpainted glass were created in central Europe during the Baroque period.
Glass of the First Half of the 19th Century—Neoclassicism, Empire Style,Biedermeier, Rococo Revival
During the Neoclassical period, glass production was influenced by the general admiration of Classical Antiquity.Glassware was now thin-walled and of simple, mostly cylindrical forms. The most prevalent decorative techniques included glass cutting, occasionally complemented with engraving, and painting in polychrome enamels. New types of hollow glass appeared during the Empire Style period (under England's influence).In this connection, a new type of cut came into use (known as the raised-diamond cut).In England, France, Brandenburg and Bohemia, glassware with porcelain-like objects encased in the glass was much sought after. Glass made in a wide range of colours became even more popular during the Biedermeier and Rococo Revival periods.
Glass of the Second Half of the 19th Century—Historical Style
The early years of the second half of the 19th century in western Europe (and especially in England) were marked by a reform movement that strove to elevate the
aesthetic level of craftsmanship. This movement turned to Historical Styles for inspiration. Glass engravers who had left Bohemia and settled in the British Isles were highly instrumental in introducing new glass-decorating methods.
Glass of the Art Nouveau Period
The Art Nouveau emerged during the final decade of the 19th century in reaction to the preceding Historical Revival Styles, as well as to the academism and the mass production of overly decorated goods.Further technical innovations took root,among them the crucial technique of iridization, a rainbow effect achieved by the introduction of tin and cadmium oxides (the first English iridized glass objects appeared at the World's Fair in Paris in 1878). These innovative methods brought a new aesthetic vocabulary and enabled glassmakers to create surfaces and forms derived from organic shapes in nature.
Glass Between the Two World Wars
Art Deco was a fashionable stylistic movement that issued from post-World I optimism,it distinguished by striking colours and a partially abstract décor, and chiefly affecting the applied arts and the world offashion.In different countries, it took on various forms, frequently with ethnographic elements projected into it. In the late thirties, Functionalism emerged in response to this highly decorative visual idiom. Functionality, simplicity and minimal or virtually no decoration were the essential prerequisites that formulated contemporary architecture and objects of everyday use, including glass.