Millefiori image - Beautiful flower design

Greco-Roman, probably Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 1st century B.C.
Dimensions: 1 � in. (3.2 cm) high, 5 3/16 in. (13.1 cm) in diameter
This beautiful Greco-Roman mosaic glass bowl, molded out of canes of varying shades of rose pink, deep blue and amethyst with golden yellow and white accents, was acquired by Ali and Hicham Aboutaam for their Geneva antiquities gallery Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A. Virtually intact, the bowl is a superb example of mosaic glass, a technique that first developed in areas of the Eastern Mediterranean during the 3rd century B.C.

The varying textures, shapes and colors, termed millefiori for its �thousand flowers� effect, were created through the use of multicolored glass rods and canes. The rods were single pieces of glass of uniform color while canes were composed of two or more different elements which were then fused together through heating to create candycane-like sticks of glass. They were then sliced either lengthwise or into cross sections, revealing the bright designs created by the contrasting colors within.

This particular bowl is mostly made up of pieces of rose and deep blue canes that were wrapped with white, creating the delicate spiraling patterns that seem to blossom all over the bowl. Interspersed among them are segments of opaque white and vivid yellow-gold that contrast warmly with the somewhat cool colors of the rest of the vessel. The artisan who made this vessel decided on a blue matrix identical in color to the blue canes embedded in it, creating the impression of pink, white and yellow leaves floating along on a swirling current.

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To create the overall design, all of the individual glass elements would have been arranged side by side along the bottom half of a mold, covered by its second half to keep the pieces from shifting, and then heated. This allowed the glass to soften and, upon cooling, to fuse together, conforming to the shape of the mold. Gaps between pieces could be filled by inserting additional pieces of glass and reheating the piece. When the body of the bowl was finished, a spirally wound rim � here in translucent amethyst and white � was applied. Finally, the entire bowl was ground smooth inside and out

Mosaic glass was a luxury good enjoyed expressly by the wealthy, as the process described above was labor-intensive and time-consuming. Originating in Assyria, where examples of mosaic glass date back as far as the 9th century B.C., it is possible that Near Eastern glassmakers introduced the technique to the West via the workshops in Alexandria. Hellenistic glassmakers learned their techniques � finding a ready market for them back home � and what they could not make themselves they imported, creating a brisk trade in fine glassware across the Mediterranean.

The Aboutaams have developed an international reputation for finding and offering pieces of extraordinary quality over the years, and their considerable expertise also encompasses Roman glass. When asked about the importance of this millefiori glass bowl, Hicham Aboutaam explained, �Although mosaic glass was not uncommon in ancient times, few vessels of comparable quality and condition exist today.� Indeed, this seems to be the case. A similar bowl, albeit with a different color scheme, exists in the Corning Museum of Glass in New York (fig. 1), and the large yellow and translucent glass bowl in the Yale University Art Gallery displays the same millefiori technique (fig. 2). These bowls also date from around the early 1st century A.D., making them excellent parallels for Phoenix�s piece, but it would seem that these bowls are among the mere handful of surviving vessels that display such levels of craftsmanship and preservation. Ali Aboutaam, president of Phoenix Ancient Art, admits, �We are quite fortunate to have found such a remarkable piece and feel very lucky to be able to present it for others to enjoy.�