Glass gold-band mosaic alabastron
Greek (first century BCE)
Dulling of the glass, tarnishing, and slight chipping
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
This very small, hollow glass vessel is a beautiful example of the extreme craftsmanship of the
Greeks during the Hellenistic period. This elliptical perfume bottle is adorned with a beautifully
polychrome meandering pattern of stripes. Standing just under four inches tall, it is a very
intricate object, begging to be closely observed.
The bottle would have been created from a larger cane of glass that would have been preformed
with layers corresponding to the colors visible in the final product (turquoise, cobalt, white, and
purple). This larger piece of glass would be heated until it was soft enough to be easily worked
and then subsequently pulled and stretched over a metal rod (which would also be heated),
giving the bottle its shape. The placement of the rod into the original piece of glass, as well as
any manipulations the artisan may have made to the glass’ position would have contributed to the
meandering bands of color. The final step in the creation was to, once the whole bottle had
cooled, apply extremely thin sheets of delicate hammered gold to one of the bands, with an
additional layer of glass being applied overtop, sandwiching and locking the gold in place.
The purpose of this bottle is thought to have been to house perfume. The amount of decoration
on such a small scale certainly hints that this item would have been an expensive luxury—much
like fragrance would have been. Contrarily, though, this is one of the smaller specimens of this
type of vessel that we have. They were thought to have been commercially made Based on other
specimens, too, we know there would have been separate pieces to make the perfume bottle more
The Greeks were known for their large mosaic work, and the same glassmaking prowess from
the mosaics is undoubtedly evident in this small perfume bottle. The intricacy of the decoration
would require the utmost skill—something the Greeks definitely possessed. The perfect curve of
the silhouette and the condition of the different bands of color speak to this prowess, as well.
This bottle also comes out of a long tradition of Greek alabastra. The alabastra were a class of
small vessels—usually glass, but sometimes ceramic—made specifically with the intent of
holding oils for massage or perfume.The name is derived from the Egyptians who made similar
vessels carved of alabaster during the New Kingdom period.
"Alabastron." The Classical Art Research Centre and The Beazley Archive. Accessed November 1,
"Glass Gold-band Mosaic Alabastron (perfume Bottle)." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed
November 1, 2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/249526.