Period: Early Imperial, Augustan
Date: late 1st century B.C.–early 1st century A.D.
Medium: Glass; cast and cut
Dimensions: H. 13/16 in. (2 cm)
diameter 6 5/16 in. (16 cm)
Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1959
Accession Number: 59.11.6
Mosaic glass objects such as this come in an extremely wide variety of color combinations and designs, for the process offered the opportunity for creativity in the formation of the mosaic canes. Popularly called millefiori, Italian for "a thousand flowers," this style of glass was created by fusing small sections of mosaic canes into flat disks that were then fashioned into the shape of the finished vessel. The matrix of this vessel is made up of polygonal sections of a single cane of mosaic glass, consisting of opaque yellow rods surrounded by circles of opaque red, translucent purple, and opaque white glass. The flat disk of hot glass was then most likely pressed between two molds in order to fashion its angular profile, reminiscent of contemporary Arretine ceramics (10.210.37) and metalwares (20.49.2-12). The interior of this dish was then ground and polished to smooth away any imperfections caused by the casting process.
Brilliantly colored designs were a trademark of the Roman mosaic glass industry, with many examples containing quite a number of different canes and colors. Sometimes a glassworker incorporated small sections of sandwiched gold-glass or monochrome segments to the mix, adding a touch of elegance to his work. There is some evidence to suggest that certain combinations of gold or monochrome cane inclusions served as workshop trademarks, identifying the creator of an object by the color scheme or design. The Romans are even known to have created matching sets, replete with bowls, dishes, and cups of varying shapes and sizes fashioned out of the same pattern of mosaic glass.