The Art of Cameo Glass – from Ancient Rome to Emile Galle
Our Speaker in September was Mr Scott Anderson, recently retired lecturer at Southampton Solent University. His talk took us on an interesting trail through the history of cameo glass, and in particular the Portland Vase, originally known as the Barberini Vase.
Found in 1582 in a sarcophagus of one of the Caesars in Rome, where it must have been placed over 2000 years ago, has proved to be the most important example of cameo glass in the world. It stands 9.8ins high, of dark blue glass with a finely carved layer of white glass on top depicting mythological scenes and figures.
For the next 150 years the vase remained in the Barberini family until 1782 when it was purchased by the Duke of Portland and placed for safe keeping in the British Museum, who eventually purchased it for the nation. A few years later Josiah Wedgwood was able to produce his first copy of the vase in black and white Jasperware which was an overnight sensation when it went on sale in 1790.
The Portland Vase has been the inspiration of many glassmakers, for example John Northwood, who after studying the Elgin Marbles, sparked a resurgence of interest in Greek and Roman glass making, especially cameo glass, when he produced by hand the first glass replica of the Vase in 1876.
Influenced by the Portland Vase after a visit to the British Museum, Emile Galle can take credit for a revival in cameo glass at a time when the classical designs of Rome/Greece were out of fashion. From 1889 in his workshops in Nancy he created new vibrant designs and we were shown some beautiful examples of these. Galle is considered by many to be the most important glassmaker of The Art Nouveau Movement in the 19th and early 20th century. On his death in 1904 the Daum Brothers, became the masters of the day and their work continued through the Art Deco era.
It was a very interesting presentation with plenty of visual examples of cameo art inspired by a very special 9.8in Roman artefact.