Give Now

Category Archives: Object of the Month.2019

Object of the Month: February 2019

Roman Glass


Iridescent Glass Perfume Bottle
Roman, circa 3rd-4th century AD
Iridescent Glass Vase/Jar
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
Iridescent Glass Double Unguentarium
Roman, circa 3rd-4th century AD
Iridescent Glass Medicine or Perfume Jar
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
Iridescent Glass Cup
Roman, circa 2nd-3rd century AD
Iridescent Glass Tear Bottle
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
On loan to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC
Iridescent Glass Bowl
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
On loan to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC
Iridescent Glass Medicine Bottle
Roman, circa 1st-2nd century AD
On loan to Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC


Glass, a practical material as well as an artistic art form, was first created more than a thousand years before the Romans conquered the world. Even though the Romans did not invent the scientific process of creating glass, they are recognized as skilled craftsmen in the art.

Roman glass like the uniquely shaped forms in M&G’s Bowen Collection of Antiquities begs the viewer to study ancient glass. What makes it iridescent? What was it used for? Was it just for the wealthy?

The word iridescence is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a lustrous rainbowlike play of color caused by differential refraction of light waves (as from an oil slick, soap bubble, or fish scales) that tends to change as the angle of view changes.” M&G’s Roman glass did not begin as an iridescent piece. The iridescent effect was created by the slow decomposition of the glass over time. The alkali in the glass was drawn out and then mixed with the water within the soil in which it was buried, thus leaving colorful hues on the outside of the glass.

Roman glass bowls and bottles were used to hold precious liquids: oils, perfumes, ointments, cosmetics, medicine and perhaps tears of a grieving loved one.  While some speculate that tear bottles were not actually used to capture a grieving person’s tears, Scripture gives credence to the idea in Psalm 56:8, “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” The romance of capturing one’s tears only makes the bottle all the more mysterious and beautiful.

Roman glass was readily available and affordable for the common person to own—so prevalent, that third-century Emperor Gallienus refused to drink from a glass “because nothing was more common.”  However, Emperor Tacitus who followed Gallienus’s reign “took great pleasure in the diversity and elaborate workmanship of glass.”  These beautiful glass receptacles might have once been owned by a slave, plebeian, patrician, or emperor. Regardless, though, ancient examples of glass are well preserved and have turned more beautiful over time.

To view Roman glass from the Bowen Collection of Antiquities, visit The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, where many M&G antiquities are currently on loan.

Angie Snow, Museum Educator


Published in 2019

Object of the Month: January 2019



Spanish, mid 15th century

A chair, from the English chaere or Latin cathedra, is one of the most common pieces of furniture and easily identified in its simplest form by its parts—back, seat, arms and legs. The chair’s specific purpose can be discerned by more descriptive names such as recliner, wheelchair, throne, etc.  Of course, the person “who takes a seat” can further outline the chair’s scope such as the Queen of England positioned in The Chair in the House of Commons to open a new session of Parliament, a ruling monarch seated on a throne to make a solemn declaration, or a bishop (such as the Pope, known as the Bishop of Rome) adopting a position in a cathedra or cathedrae apostolorum (as it occurs in early church writings) to teach with apostolic authority.

The Museum & Gallery’s furniture collection from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries is known as the most extensive representation in America and includes several types of ecclesiastical chairs, four of which are cathedrae.  Each of the four has interesting designs and carvings, but the oldest in the collection possesses by far the most intriguing and traceable features.  

Gazing from the back panel of the Cathedra is a sculpted female figure representing St. Lucy, one of the most venerated female saints in martyrology and mentioned in the Catholic mass itself. She holds two objects: a palm frond, symbolic of victory in death and a platter with eyes, her most common and legendary attribute.

Just under the seat panel is a misericord. Since many of the medieval and early Renaissance ceremonial prayers were uttered in a standing position, the misericord acted as a place to “rest” or lean on during the long ceremony thereby allowing the bishop to obtain a type of “mercy.”

This Spanish Cathedra dates with certainty to the 1400s due mostly to the identifiable coat of arms of Bishop Alonso de Burgos, born in 1415 in Burgos, Spain, the capital of Old Castile. The galero or pilgrim’s hat and tassels were common elements of the crest of a bishop, with the center shield denoting a particular symbol of heritage or character, in this case a lily in the stylized form of a fleur-de-lis, which is a symbol of purity. Alonso’s influence as a bishop was widespread as he served in the central Spain dioceses of Cordoba, Cuenca, and Palencia. Ordained as a Dominican monk at an early age, Alonso so earnestly and diligently applied himself to his vocation as a Catholic clergyman that he was readily noticed and subsequently assigned as confessor by the renowned Catholic Monarchs, a collective term for Spanish King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, under whose banner Columbus sailed.  

Beyond being instrumental in the financing of some of the voyages of the discoverer, Bishop Alonso’s influence was exhibited in founding a center for Dominican study, the Collegio de San Gregorio, an Isabelline-style building located in the city of Valladolid. Readily visible throughout the architecture is Alonso’s heraldry.  

Bonnie Merkle, M&G Docent and Database Manager


Published in 2019