Corning Museum: medieval glass objects exhibition opens in May

The phrase medieval glass evokes images of stained glass windows. But there is another world of medieval glass: objects made for daily use. And an unexpected variety of medieval glass vessels will be …

The phrase medieval glass evokes images of stained glass windows. But there is another world of medieval glass: objects made for daily use. And an unexpected variety of medieval glass vessels will be explored in an exhibition of objects for daily use and display at The Corning Museum of Glass from 15 May 2010 to 2 January 2011, the first exhibition in the US devoted to glass made in the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD to the rise of the Renaissance in the 15th century. During this period, Europe was transformed: from a complex society administered from cities to scattered rural communities and back again; from an empire-wide economy to small-scale exchange systems which, over the centuries, evolved into international networks of trade; and from a world that abandoned advanced technology, then regrouped and built the architectural marvels of the Renaissance. Glassmaking, too, was transformed. After the fall of Rome, all but the simplest techniques were forgotten. But, over the centuries, the quality, quantity, and repertoire of glassware increased. In the later Middle Ages, local products were joined by luxurious glasses imported from the Islamic world and, by the 15th century, the stage was set for the golden age of Venetian glassmaking. The exhibition “Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants” will follow the evolution of glass production over these 1,000 years, with objects tracing the history of the Middle Ages in Europe through the lens of glassmaking. The story touches on politics, trade, urbanization and the disintegration of cities, religion, science, and technology and highlights the importance of the material to the development of the world we know today. The more than 100 objects in Medieval Glass are drawn from the Museum“s collection, as well as from as well as from museums and cathedral treasuries in Europe, where many pieces were held for centuries without being properly identified. Some were discovered during archaeological excavations, which gave scholars and archaeologists a groundbreaking new vision of the richness and variety of medieval glass, its production centres, and techniques used by medieval glassmakers. One area of the exhibit will display glass objects used for eating and drinking, arranged chronologically to show the evolution of glass tableware through this thousand-year period, and to illustrate the increase in the decoration and complexity of the glass vessels as glassmaking techniques were rediscovered in the late Middle Ages. Copies of illuminated manuscripts and paintings throughout the exhibit will illustrate how these glass objects were used and valued in medieval society. Other sections of the exhibit explore glass for the church and treasury and glass used for science and medicine – including glass used in scientific instruments, for medical diagnosis and alchemy, as well as the critical development of reading spectacles and other lenses. A gallery reminiscent of a medieval cathedral features the sole stained glass window in the exhibition, as well as highlights of glass used in the church: glasses used to preserve relics, ceremonial lamps and drinking vessels. Examples of the rare and mysterious group of objects known as “Hedwig Beakers“, mysterious and beautiful glass cups, found in treasuries across Europe, unlike any other medieval objects of glass or rock crystal from the Islamic world, Byzantium, or western Christiandom, are a highlight of this section. Videos in the galleries will illustrate how modern glassmakers have experimented with medieval techniques to identify and understand how these objects were made.