ROMAN GLASS UNGUENTARIUM
UNGUENTARIUM of Hans van Rossum
Date: 4th – 5th century AD |Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Size↑15.7 cm | ø 3.8 cm (body) | Weight 40 g
Technique: Free blown, handle and coils applied
Description: Transparent bluish-green glass, small bi-conical drop-shaped body with long tubular neck, constriction at the junction with the body. Encircling with three applied coils. Base solid and indented, broken off roughly from pontil, on the body a zigzag spiral trail in deep turquoise glass and four revolutions of a fine spiral trail. Circular handle of thick coil attached to both sides of the rim.
Remarks: It is unknown what this unguentarium was used for. It is suggested that unguentaria like this one were used by the Roman senators to vote in the Senate. Another assumption is that they were used to measure, how much water had been added to the wine by judging the resistance to it being sunk into the wine, measuring the viscosity. The rings may have served as measuring points. And there is the striking resemblance between the calamistrum and this unguentarium. The most involved operation during Roman times was the curling of the hair, for which the calamistrum was used. This calamistrum was a metal tool, which female slaves heated in a metal sheath buried in hot ash, and around which the ornatrix skillfully twisted the hair. The most striking features with this metal example are the circular handle, the long neck and the rings as decoration of the neck and the oval body. It is not obvious that the glass example was used to curl the hair but perhaps this unguentarium had also a function within the mode of the hair during ancient times or this glass variant of the metal tool was given as a gift for the deceased woman, to serve as a nice reminder to the profession she exercised. Who knows!! Below is a drawing of a metal calamistrum and a Roman woman using it to curl her hair.
Provenance: Jerusalem art market, 2001
Published: Antiek Glas, de Kunst van het Vuur, R. van Beek no. 59
Exhibited: Museum Simon van Gijn Dordrecht (NL) February 2004, Allard Pierson Museum Amsterdam (NL), de Kunst van het Vuur, no. 59 17 May – 16 September 2001
Reference: Roman and Pre-Roman Glass in the Royal Ontario Museum, J.W. Hayes no. 413, Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, The Eliahu Dobkin Collection and Other Gifts, Y. Israeli no. 3 Glass from the Roman Empire, P.E. Cuperus no. PEC 051