Published: August 29, 2017
NEW HAVEN, CONN. – The Yale University Art Gallery presents “‘Drink That You May Live’: Ancient Glass from the Yale University Art Gallery,” on view through November 12.
The museum is home to a comprehensive collection of ancient glass, encompassing a wide variety of precious objects from small core-formed Egyptian cosmetic containers to elaborately decorated free-blown Roman vessels. The rich assemblage has never before been the subject of a dedicated exhibition.
“Drink That You May Live” showcases approximately 130 pieces from the gallery’s holdings, many on display for the first time. The exhibition draws from the fields of art history, archaeology and social history in recounting the progression of glassmaking technology in antiquity, while also exploring the concept of glassmaking workshops, social and economic activities in relation to glass, the proliferation of glass as a decorative art and the contexts in which archaeologists today continue to recover this ancient material.
Originating in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BCE, glassmaking underwent significant development in New Kingdom Egypt and gained widespread popularity in the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Objects on view span approximately two millennia, dating from the Fifteenth Century BCE-Seventh Century CE. An eye for beauty and a well-honed technical virtuosity were crucial to artisans undertaking this delicate craft, and makers in the ancient Mediterranean region and the Near East produced striking vessels employing various decorative schemes and manufacturing techniques.
While many people think of glassware today in primarily utilitarian terms, ancient glassmakers combined utility with whimsy. The phrase “Drink that you may live” is an exhortation to the drinker and was inscribed on numerous glass cups – including the gilded drinking vessel from which the exhibition takes its title – and it reflects the frequent use of glass at banquets and drinking parties in the ancient world.
In rare instances, glassmakers inscribed their names on their work. Among the most important of the gallery’s ancient glass vessels is a globular bowl signed by Ennion, preeminent among the few ancient glassmakers whose names are known. The gallery also has glass artifacts recovered from the excavations at the ancient cities of Dura-Europos (present-day Syria), conducted in 1928-37 by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters, and Gerasa (present-day Jordan), conducted in 1928-29 by Yale University and the British School of Archaeology. Examples from these sites are interspersed throughout the exhibition, demonstrating how art historians and archaeologists can use this material as a point of comparison with which to contextualize and understand similar objects.
“Drink That You May Live” is organized by Sara E. Cole, PhD 2015, curatorial assistant in the antiquities department at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and former graduate curatorial intern in the department of ancient art at the Yale University Art Gallery. Cole said, “Ancient glass can be appreciated for its delicate beauty and for the technical proficiency of its makers, but by delving deeper into the lives of individual objects, one realizes that they also have complex stories to tell about the contexts in which they were owned and used. The gallery’s collection, with its impressive breadth and depth, provides fertile ground for exploring these narratives.”
The Yale University Art Gallery is at 1111 Chapel Street. For more information, artgallery.yale.edu or 203-432-0600.
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