Mold–blown glass; L. 9 7/16 in. (24 cm); H. 6 13/16 in. (17.78 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.194.251; 17.194.231)
These two vessels illustrate how Roman craftsmen could create fanciful shapes and designs with great versatility using the mold-blowing process. They were both made by blowing glass into a two-part mold, and the seams where the two halves of the mold met are visible on each vessel. The seam on the fish bottle runs along the top and bottom ridge of the fish's head and body, and on the bunch of grapes the seam runs down the sides of the flask. While such vessels are attractive in their own right, they were clearly made to hold some form of liquid, and both may have served to dispense a dressing or sauce at the dining table. Because it could not stand upright on its own, the fish bottle must have been securely stoppered in some way to prevent the contents from spilling out while not in use.
While the craftsman of the fish bottle simply finished the rim of his vessel after creating the decoration in the initial mold-blowing process, the creator of the grape flask added further embellishments to enhance the overall effect of his product. The rim and base of the flask were rounded and finished, and the handles drawn and attached separately. The spiral decoration on the neck, an unusual feature, was drawn from a thread of hot glass to imitate the curly stem of a grapevine. The finished product is an elegant and playful example of the creativity often exhibited by Roman glassmakers.
Many other shapes were created by Roman makers of mold-blown glasshead flasks were a particularly common type, although fruit such as dates also served as a popular model. The range and variety of molds used in Roman times were unmatched in later Western or Islamic glass production, and it is only in modern times that the technique has been exploited with the same degree of inventiveness and skill.