About This Artwork

Roman; Syria

Flask in the Shape of a Date, 1st century AD

Glass, mold-blown technique
7.5 x 3 x 3 cm (3 x 1 1/8 x 1 1/8 in.)

Gift of H. H. Kohlsaat, 1891.32

Glass in the Roman World

Initially affordable only among the wealthy, glass was used in ancient Rome as containers for oils, perfume, and tablewares. The variety of glass-making techniques reveals the changing tastes and fashions over the centuries. During the 1st century A.D., cast glass was a novel form that was a luxury for the Roman household, but by the end of the century, the innovation of blown glass allowed for less labor-intensive and less expensive production, which meant people of lesser means could afford it. Blown glass became so popular it nearly supplanted ceramic and even bronze wares in the home.

With the invention of glass blowing came the possibility of making molds to produce multiples, enabling mass production of popular designs. Whimsical shapes, such as a date, enjoyed great popularity. While most molds were made of clay or plaster, it is likely that the mold for this flask was made from an actual dried date. Dates were not only a staple of the Mediterranean diet, used to sweeten food and wine, but were also a symbolic gift given at the New Year. Mold-blown glass began in the workshops of Syro-Palestine but quickly became vogue in the West as tablewares could be uniformly produced.

—Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155A, April 20, 1994 - February 6, 2012.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 152, November 11, 2012 - present.

Publication History

Karen B. Alexander, "From Plaster to Stone: Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago," in Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, by Karen Manchester (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2012), p. 37.

Karen Alexander and Mary Greuel, Private Taste in Ancient Rome: Selections from Chicago Collections (1990), n. pag. (n.68).

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