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17 February 2010  |  Wine   |  Article

History of Wine Glasses and Decanters

As wine gained status throughout history it has been accompanied by various mediums of art in the form of objects created for the service, enjoyment, and ritual use of wine. Drinking glasses and decanters became a part of the heightened status of wine culture. From an artistic perspective, they provided craftsmen the opportunity to display fashionable techniques and skills of the time, reflecting contemporary style to be included as a part of the owner's interior design.

Though numerous forms of wine cups had existed since the classical period, it was the 14th century merchants of Venice that set a new standard of elegance in wine-drinking by combining the skills of the glassblower and designer. The clarity and transparency of their cristallo glass allowed the color of the wine to be fully appreciated. The Venetian style persisted in the next centuries, however the ever-changing style of interior decoration influenced new designs for glasses. In the 1670s George Ravenscroft developed a new formula for glass using lead oxide. The lead glass was softer, stronger, heavier and more luminous. When first introduced the styles continued to emulate the Venetian forms, however, the lead glass was too heavy and slow to set. In the 1690s the more simplified style of balustrade stems consisting of bold, massive “knops” came into fashion, modeled after the furniture of the time. By the 1760s glass-cutting became the preferred design method. The return to clean lines and geometrical shapes reflected the neoclassical style that was in vogue at the time. Until this time, a wineglass was an individual decorative object, and a considerable investment. In the 18th century the dining room became a clearly defined space within the house and formal dining customs were established. The developments in dining ritual and service led to the requirement of matching sets of glasses in the 18th century.

Glass decanters began appearing as Ravenscroft’s new lead glass was being perfected. Their early use was to show off the color and clarity of the wine, hidden by the dark black and green glass of the wine bottle. It also acted as a more elegant transport from barrel to table than the contemporary awkward stoneware jugs. When it first arrived, the shape was derived from the squat, short-necked wine bottle. This ‘shaft and globe’ style persisted into the middle of the 18th century when, like wine bottles, they became more vertical and cylindrical. As they evolved the shape became narrower and often took on new elegant forms. Like the drinking glasses, glass cutting and engraving were the most common methods of decoration and soon patterns and designs were found covering the entire surface of the glass. With the rise of the bottlescrew and the popularity of laying wines down for ageing, the decanter came into its own. Wines aged in the bottle were swamped in heavy sediment and it was necessary to pour the wine into another container leaving the sediment behind

The popularity and evolution of fine drinking glasses and decanters have continued to contribute to the elegance and sophistication within wine culture.

Related Departments
European Ceramics & Glass

All other categories of objects
17th Century
18th Century
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