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.
Our June talk took us on a journey through the Wanli to Kangxi period of Chinese Blue and White Porcelains from 1572 to 1722. Nicholas Panes, who is a collector of Antique English and Chinese Ceramics and Hon. Vice President of the English Ceramics Circle provided us with history, information as well as stunning pictures depicting examples of the porcelain pieces produced during these periods.
Nick gave us a “potted” history along with an explanation of the “Dynasty” system, which ruled over China – each dynasty is the family or successors of one Ruler, and then as the ruling family changes so does the Dynasty. Also explaining the symbols, as well as the pronunciation, which made up the marks showing the age of the pieces. For dating purposes, shipwrecks have provided really useful tools, as often coins were found and these helped identify the period when the porcelain was produced. Apparently, there were seven shipwrecks during the period from 1572 to 1722
Most ceramics were produced in Jingdezhen, and during the Wanli period, the factories production declined and eventually closed by the Emperor and production was forbidden which gave rise to the Japanese porcelain on the world market. During the period of closure, porcelain was produced for domestic use in private kilns, which was technically illegal. The kilns were restored and production began again in the Kangxi period of about 1677. The slides showed examples of Blue & White porcelain produced before the period of Wanli – some of which are in the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum. The talk was illustrated by examples of dishes, bottles, an Elephant Kendi, wine pots, teapots and various other examples. All beautifully decorated with the styles showing off the styles of the different periods, particularly the “panelling” which was also depicted in the painting by Sir Nathanial Bacon (not actually an artist but a very good amateur), of “A Cookmaid with Still Life Vegetables and Fruit”, painted in the 1620’s which shows the “Krack” – a Dutch word who imported a great deal via the Dutch East India Company.
The talk covered so much of a short period of time, which was extremely informative with humour as well as factual content.