Glassware transformed by extreme heat into sculpture.

A Curious Case Of Glass

As the end date of the Museum’s Pompeii exhibit ticked closer, I made a habit of visiting one set of artifacts above all others. Tucked away in the corner of the gallery was a curious case of melted, misshapen glass, that seemed to draw me in whenever I passed by.

Removed of their volcanic context, the glass containers are of no significant historical importance- Roman society two millennia ago was full of perfume and oil jars. But due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD these regular pieces of glassware took on a whole new sculptural form, that give a brief snapshot of the horrors seen on the final day of Pompeii.

But the connection to the volcano is not what I originally thought.

Though the pyroclastic surges of rock & gas that rained upon Pompeii brought temperatures of up to 300 degrees Celsius, Roman glass melts at heat roughly three times as high. Archeologists suggest that something far more domestic than a volcanic eruption reshaped the glass- an oil lamp, perhaps toppled over in panic may have set ablaze the cupboard they were contained in. The temperatures inside would have increased dramatically, superheating the glass into their now gorgeous forms.

I can just imagine a mother and father grabbing their children to escape the city and in the chaos knocking over an oil lamp. The lamp then ignited the cloth wrap strung over the glassware cabinet, setting forth a series of events that put the specimens on display today.

Of the many impressive artifacts brought together for the Pompeii exhibit, from the body casts to the preserved olives, the glass containers, their sculpturesque shape a thing of art, are what I’ll miss the most.

By @kironcmukherjee. Last update: January 3rd, 2015.

Originally published at