Glass bowl decorated with four busts in roundels

Period: Late Imperial

Date: 4th century A.D.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Glass; blown and cut

Dimensions: H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm)
diameter 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm)

Classification: Glass

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.194.318


Apart from cameo glass, most Roman cut glass of the first through third centuries A.D. was decorated with linear, facet (81.10.46), or geometric (17.194.317) designs. It was only in late imperial times that glass cutters expanded their repertoire to include figural representations. Mythological themes, as well as scenes of everyday life, were very popular, but some cut glass was evidently meant to be commemorative as well. This free-blown colorless bowl, for example, is engraved with four medallions, each containing a portrait bust in profile to the left.
The medallions are large and fill the available space on the body of the bowl. Stars and architectural edicules were cut into the spandrel gaps between the medallions, and a rosette was carved on the very bottom. The glass cutter achieved varying degrees of delicacy in the engraving; the details of the heads were created using a finer tool than the busts themselves. This bowl was found in Cologne, one of the Roman empire's major and most innovative glass-manufacturing centers, and is dated to the fourth century A.D.
Although the figures engraved on this bowl cannot now be identified, it is possible they are of a Christian context. With the spread of Christianity, especially after it was officially recognized by Constantine the Great in 313 A.D., glass cutters increasingly depicted biblical and other Christian scenes. However, pagan subjects were never entirely replaced.