The Romans learned the art of glass making from the Near East cultures. Following the invention of the glass maker's blowpipe in the last century BC, the manufacture of hollow glass vessels blossomed during the Roman imperial period to great heights. Besides Syria, Roman Cologne was an important centre of glass manufacture. The clouding and iridescent effects seen in antique glasses have been caused by the long time they have been in the earth and are due to chemical changes.
Forest glass of the 16-17th centuries
Glassworks producing glasses in large quantities only emerged again toward the end of the middle ages. Apart from various types of sand, the forest glassworks were dependent, above all, on wood for the production of potash and for fuel. When the surrounding forest was used up, the works were rebuilt in another location. One of the most interesting developments of the period was the "cabbage stalk" from which later the rummer developed, the archetypal wine glass.
The baroque period (17-18th century) could be described, a little over-simplified, as the period of glass cutting. From Bohemia came a pure, thick-walled glass that, thanks to its hardness, was particularly suitable for cutting. While at first Nuremberg and Bohemia were the leaders in this technique, during the 18th century Silesia in particular was setting the standards in this handicraft.
Motifs from the folkloric picture world are to be found on early enamel-painted German glasses, made during the first half of the 16th century. Painted in colourful enamels, themes from family life, love and erotic subjects are depicted, as are also the animal and plant worlds. Greetings or wishes are placed next to interesting symbols.
In the first half of the 19th century the handicrafts of glass design and production reached an absolute zenith. This above all through the efforts of the Bohemian glassworks and craftsmen. Biedermeier cut glasses still count today as remarkable examples of the handicraft of glass cutting. Cutting and glass form influence each other. But engraving and painting also reached very high levels. The interest in experimenting shown by the numerous Bohemian glassworks has bequeathed to us a great variety of coloured glasses. There has never again been such a rich and diverse colour palette in the production of glasses.
The small, mostly heavy and rather crude schnapps glass came more into use toward the end of the 18th century. Based on the goblet shape, it usually has a conical cup, flowing into a thick shaft and a heavy foot plate. Small versions of glass goblets continued to be used as schnapps and liqueur glasses
In the second half of the 19th century the styles of past epochs were taken up also in the field of glass design. In a time of increasing industrialization, with its emphasis above all on mass production, which meant that the development of a specific contemporary style was hardly possible, attempts were made in this way to achieve an appropriate style. Thus, apart from pure replicas, numerous glass creations whose applied-art qualities were at least comparable to those of the products of past epochs were produced.
Around 1900 the search began in the field of applied-art for new, fresh and original means of expression. Orientation toward history was no longer sufficient. Glass vessels were created, inspired by the colour and form worlds of the Far East, whose richness of decoration and variety of colour effects still impress. Exemplary are the works of Louis Comfort-Tiffany and Emile Gallé. But drinking vessels made for everyday use by the glassworks of the Bavarian Forest or the Rheinland still fascinate us today by their form and gracefulness.