Cameo glass fragment of a large platter or tabletop

Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian
1st half of 1st century A.D.
Glass; cast, applied, and carved
Overall: 9 1/2 x 20 3/4in. (24.1 x 52.7cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1881
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Translucent deep purple with opaque white overlay.
    Everted, rounded rim, with slightly downturned outer lip; shallow convex side; flat bottom with slightly upturned and rounded outer edge.
    On interior, two raised lines as molding around side, retaining in places traces of white overlay; on exterior, recessed horizontal lines below rim and at edge of side and bottom. Decoration carved in white overlay, comprising a crab, a squid, and two bivalve molluscs, with incised details, such as the naturalistic patterning of the shells and the tenticles of the squid.
    Rim fragment, broken into a dozen pieces and repaired; many pinprick bubbles; dulling, deep pitting, brilliant iridescence, and patches of brown enamel-like weathering

    This large cameo glass fragment is said to have been found on the island of Capri on the Bay of Naples, near the imperial villa where the Emperor Tiberius lived in seclusion between A.D. 27 and 37. Because of its size and quality it has therefore be seen as a fitting piece from Tiberius' villa but equally it could have graced one of the other sumptuous Roman villas that were located on the island. Originally it must have measured approximately 42 inches in diameter, making it one of the largest examples of cast glass known from the ancient world. It may have been used as a circular serving tray or, more probably, as a table top at elegant dinner parties to which wealthy Romans were so addicted. However, it is the fine carved cameo decoration that makes this fragment so spectacular. Over the background of deep purple glass, representing Homer's "wine-dark sea", a layer of opaque white glass was added and then carved to represent various sea creatures, including a crab, a squid, and several shellfish. The choice of the marine subject matter is highly appropriate given that Roman dinner parties on Capri probably featured many delicacies provided by local fishermen.

  • Provenance

    Said to have been found in 1888 on Capri, near the Palace of Tiberius, under the villa of Sig. Cerio.

    1888, said to have been found on Capri, on the property of the Cerio family; 1892, purchased in Rome from Charles Caryl Coleman by Henry G. Marquand; acquired in 1892, gift of Henry G. Marquand.

  • References

    Smith, Ray Winfield. 1949. "The Significance of Roman Glass." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 8(2): p. 59.

    von Saldern, Axel. 2004. Antikes Glas. Munich: Beck, p. 216, fig. 183.

    Picón, Carlos A. 2007. Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 391, pp. 336, 483.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History