University Museums

Title: Trefoil Pitcher
Name: Trefoil Pitcher
Date: 3rd-4th century
Medium: Blown Glass
Country/Culture: Syro-Palestinian Coast
Dimensions: 7 5/16 × 3 1/2 in. (18.6 × 8.9 cm)
Classification: Decorative Arts, Glass
Credit Line: Gift of Ann and Henry Brunnier. In the Ann and Henry Brunnier Collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: 3.1.53
More Information
The invention of blowing glass after 50 B.C. in the Roman Empire revolutionized glassmaking, enabling artisans to manipulate molten glass more efficiently. Blown-glass drinking vessels quickly supplanted ceramic vessels because of their pleasing array of colors, light weight and transparency. Glass became so affordable that wealthier Romans spurned its use. The Roman Emperor, Galienus, who despised glass vessels, drank only from gold cups. He said nothing could be more common than glass.

Variations in glass shapes from the time period seem endless. Elegant pitchers, such as this one, were often decorated with elaborate handles and applied decoration. A simple flared funnel rim could be pinched into a practical pouring spout. Ancient glass, originally a dull green or brown, was transformed to a brilliant iridescence due to centuries of exposure to the elements. It was these ancient glass wares, discovered in archeological digs during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that inspired the production of early twentieth-century Art Nouveau glass, also known for its iridescence.