Veronica Occari (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Byzantine and Islamic elements in Italian glass: From the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance with a special focus on the role of Venice

Using glass technology as the main perspective, this project seeks to explore the cultural transfer between the Middle East and Italy from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance with a focus on Venice. These centuries represent a period of great cultural exchanges between the East and the West (Wickham 2016) and promoted not only the circulation of valued goods but also of knowledge and technical advances. The Near East has a long and well developed glassmaking tradition stretching back to the Bronze Age (McCray 1999) and production was on a large scale in the Eastern Mediterranean from the Roman through to the early Islamic periods (Freestone 2006). In the West, glass was only softened and worked in secondary workshops until the medieval period, when primary production centers started to appear in Europe. The ascent of the Venetian glass industry began in the 10th century and it became one of the most important Western centers of glassmaking, characterized by intense commercial relationships with the East (Zecchin 1987).

This project will explore the following themes:

  • Which technological innovations in Italian glassmaking are likely to have been acquired from Byzantine and Islamic glassworkers? A coherent diachronic study on this theme is lacking as well as a compositional and chronological database able to link the compositional changes to wider social, economic and political developments of the time. By scientifically investigating selected and representative archaeological glass objects dated from the 8th century A.D. through to the Renaissance from several sites in Italy, it will be possible to investigate the technological innovations throughout the period considered.
  • Which raw materials were traded from the eastern Mediterranean to Italy in the period under study?
  • Finally, to what extent did the crusades foster the transfer of technologies?

I have met with the Director of the Museum of Glass of Murano and the museum has agreed to support the project by promoting access to both the collection and relevant archival documentation. It is also my intention to scientifically investigate glass samples from Ravenna, Padua and possibly Istanbul. Collections of Islamic glass in UK museums such as the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Ashmolean will be available for non-invasive analysis. The objects will be first screened non-invasively by portable XRF to preliminary detect the colourants and opacifiers used. The more detailed investigation of selected samples by SEM-EDX and EPMA will provide information on the raw materials and technological chaînes opératoires. Based on the results, samples will be further investigated using the more sensitive technique laser ablation ICP-MS.

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