Asian Glass

35 Centuries of Glass Galleries

The Asian Glass case includes carved ceremonial objects from early China, blown and cut vessels made in Japan, beaded containers from Indonesia, and a variety of luxury glassware from India.

Glass was more highly valued in the West than in the Far East, where vessels were traditionally cast in bronze or fired from clay. In 1696, the emperor Kangxi established the Imperial Palace Workshops in Peking (Beijing), under the supervision of Jesuit missionaries. Their glass imitated porcelain, and they made carved cameo glass-an important part of Chinese glassmaking- that developed independently from European cameo glass [vases, 53.6.1 AB]. This glass was produced with layers of different colors and carved, often in traditional Asian styles [Warrior vase, 57.6.10]. Other Chinese glass was made in imitation of cut and incised hard stones, ivory, or bamboo.

Many glass snuff bottles imitated semiprecious stones and other exotic materials. Some examples were executed in the cameo technique to show contrasting colors [snuffbottle, 82.6.46]. The majority of these bottles were oval with flattened sides, making them easy to carry. The best bottles were carved, enameled, or painted on the inside with tiny landscapes, portraits, or inscriptions.

In early Japan, glass was used for sacred objects, such as relic jars and as offerings at shrines. Most of this glass came from China. Ruri, a blue glass that looked like the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli, was especially favored. Glassmaking grew from 1603 to 1868 under feudal authority. By 1650, Japanese glasshouses were making a wide variety of wares, ranging from small game pieces and lenses for spectacles to large vases and telescope lenses that were popular with the upper classes [sake bottles and cups, 55.6.18].

In India, glass was seldom made until the 18th century. From 1526 to 1858, during the Mughal dynasty, most glass was imported from the Middle East or Europe. Indian craftsmen then decorated it by cutting, gilding, or painting with enamels. Ideas for designs often came from pictures in manuscripts. Large quantities of glass tableware, bottles, bracelets, and beads are exported today [beaded box, 97.6.1].

Featured Objects of the Asian Glass Gallery