Roman, Imperial Period, ca. late 1st century BCE to early 1st century CE. A lovely mosaic glass vessel of a traditional form from the period, this patella cup presents a mesmerizing all-over pattern comprised of red, green, yellow, and black canes, sectioned and floating in a matrix of marbled white glass. The green glass is translucent, and other hues are opaque - making for a lovely pattern when held to the light. The body of the cup is supported by a tooled base ring of green glass with a blackened appearance. Size: 3.75" in diameter x 1.5" H (9.5 cm x 3.8 cm)
Pliny described the eye-like forms of mosaic glass in his Natural History, "Pieces of broken glass can, when heated to a moderate temperature, be stuck together, but that is all. They can never again be completely melted except into globules separate from each other, as happens in the making of the bits of glass sometimes called 'eyes,' and which in some cases have a variety of colors arranged in several different patterns." (Pliny, Natural History XXXVI.199)
A mosaic glass patella is a rarity, as most were made of metal or earthenware. Those simpler patella were used domestically - for the practical purpose of holding food (or, in the case of a small one like this, sauce like garum or condiments like salt). Finer patella like this example were used for the ritual purpose of making offerings to the Lares, the hearth guardians. Plautus even called these gods "patellari dii," the patella gods.
See a patella cup of a different color scheme in Fortuna Fine Art's catalogue entitled, "Solid Liquid" figure 42, page 37.
A Roman mosaic glass patella cup sold for $27,600 at Christie's New York on June 4, 1999 (Sale 9172, Lot 190). https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/a-roman-mosaic-glass-patella-cup-circa-1520091-details.aspx
Another sold at Christie's New York for $11,875 on December 5, 2012 (Sale 2605, Lot 219).
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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