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Glass & Glass-Making
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Gravure 2 Back

 
THICK colored overlays of fused matter upon glass were known to ancient nations. Glass decorated with gold and enamel was made by the Egyptians. The Romans and Byzantine Greeks often decorated glass with thin washes of opaque paints; but they did not apply fusible lead enamels to glass. This discovery belongs to the
Persians and Arabians; and the art was brought to perfection in Damascus and Aleppo, where Persian workmen were numerous.
    The Arabs carried on this industry for three centuries. It practically ended when Tamerlane invaded Syria and sent the glass-workers to Samarkand with all the others craftsmen. In the meantime, Crusaders had made the ware known in Europe. There was a great demand for it in Venice, so the Venetians copied it until they began to make their own characteristic ware, which completely changed taste and fashion.
    The material of this old Oriental glass is exceedingly thick and tough, and because of the imperfect "fining," or clarification, and the innumerable, though minute, air bubbles, it is less easily shattered than any other kind of glass.
    In color it varies from bottle green to amber and (rarely) to grayish white. The enamels are a fusible flux containing much lead, colored by various metallic oxides— the red by oxide of iron; the green by oxide of copper; and the yellow by antimonic acid. The blue, which is he dominant color in the decoration and the main characteristic, is not, as was once supposed, carbonate of lead, colored with cobalt, or copper, but lazulite stone pounded with powdered glass. It appears in a variety of tints,— deep blue, turquoise and grayish blue.
    The lamps (perhaps better described as lampshades, for the separate lamp is placed inside) have a swelling bulb body, a flaring neck and large ear-shaped handles. Bottles, jugs and flasks are round, or flattened, some with a high foot stand, others with a simple foot rim. Some have long slender necks. The flattened vessels are known as "pilgrim bottles." Little perfume bottles for rose-water and other scents are usually of this flattened shape. There are also bladder-shaped flower vases, dishes, bowls, beakers and goblets. The latter are often called "cups." Charlemagne's cup, a present from Haroun-al-Rashid, is now in the Museum of Chartres, France.
    This kind of glass was of no artistic value until it came into the hands of the decorator.
First he applied the gold; then the pattern was drawn in thin red lines; and, finally, the colored enamels were laid on in thick masses. Regarding the motives of decorations, figure-subjects are absent in mosque lamps, but they occur in bottles, goblets and dishes.
    Designs of polo-players; huntsmen mounted on horses and holding falcons on their wrists; people feasting; musicians playing instruments; flying birds; fishes with big heads and long fins, and handsome flowers and leaves are treated with spirit and fine decorative effect.
    On the lamps there are often bands of tall cubic letters. The flowers are chiefly of the lotus or lily tribe, variously treated. Medallions often occur, containing emblems, or inscriptions, and, sometimes, the name of the decorator.
    In the color combinations the innermost spot is always the clearest; and when the leaves or petals are red or blue, this spot is white; when the leaves are green this spot is yellow. Blackish-brown also appears in some specimens.
    The burning in of the enamels seems to have been done in a single operation. Saracenic glass is very valuable. In 1887, a collector paid £1,600 ($8,000) for a small goblet; but now-a-days, specimens bring even more fabulous sums.
    The "Luck of Eden Hall" illustrated in gravure, is a drinking-cup long preserved at Eden Hall, in Cumberland, England. Presumably of Venetian workmanship, after the Saracenic style, this chalice of enameled glass was made in the tenth century. Its special fame rests on the legend of the Musgrave family that their fortunes depend on its preservation.
    The story goes that one night when the butler went for water to St Cuthbert's well, he surprised a company of fairies dancing. When he seized their cup, the queen of the fairies exclaimed:
    "If e'er this cup should break or fall,
    Farewell the luck of Eden Hall
."
    The ballad was written seven hundred years after some crusading ancestor brought the relic home; but it is a tribute to the beauty of the cup that a fairy origin was invented to account for it.