Constable-Maxwell victory beaker
Constable-Maxwell victory beaker
Clear amber coloured glass.
1st cent. AD.
Roman Imperial period.
Cylindrical beaker with a short, outward-pointing lip and a circular base ring. During production, the glass was blown into a two-part mould and thus received its relief decoration on the outside.
The area is divided into three registers by two horizontal lines. The upper and lower registers are each filled with six stylized victory wreaths. The middle register bears the text "ɅABE THИ NEIKHN", which in today's language would be expressed as "Seize the victory". The horizontal registers are interrupted by two vertical palm branches on opposite sides of the cup. They elegantly conceal the bulge that occurs during production where the two halves of the mould touch.
This vessel is called a victory beaker, named after the theme depicted on the glass. Researcher suggested that the drinking cup was a memento for athletes of a gladiatorial contest or chariot race. The exact usage has not been passed down in ancient sources, but the context is quite clear from the iconography and inscription.
Mold-blown beakers like this one were popular during the Roman Imperial period. They are referred to as "Sidonian" because researchers believe the Phoenician city of Sidon in the Levant to be their origin. The place is mentioned in ancient sources as an important centre of glass production. There, vessels with decorative horizontal bands were made by blowing the glass into patterned moulds. The moulds were used so cleverly that the seams were on the dividing lines of the decorative fields or, as in this case, are part of a decorative element. The glass ware from Sidon was exported throughout the Roman Empire.
The mirrored "N" in the inscription of the Constable-Maxwell beaker is interesting in this context. It could be a manufacturing error. However, it has been speculated that it was used on purpose, as a mark of the workshop that produced this cup. Even though this is still speculation, the beaker is an important comparative piece for future finds from what is presumably the same Sidonian glass workshop.
67mm height. 69mm diameter.
Professionally restored from several fragments, with repaired damage to the lip and base ring. Delicate patina. The clear glass with an amber hue is still beautiful today. The relief decoration is perfectly recognizable. A magnificent specimen of the rare victory beakers.
Acquired by us on the UK art market in 2021. Previously in a US private collection. Acquired into the collection from the Sotheby's London auction of November 24, 1997, lot 15. Consigned to the auction by the British Rail Pension Fund. This British pension fund bought £40m of art in the late 1970's as an investment and to diversify its portfolio. The objects were sold again in the late 1980s and 1990s. The auction house Sotheby's was the exclusive partner. This piece was acquired by the British Rail Pension Fund in the Sotheby Parke Bernet London auction on June 4, 1979, lot 229. The auction was dedicated to the famous British private collection of Constable-Maxwell, from which this victory beaker comes as well. It was acquired into the collection on the international art market during the preceding decades. The ancient city of Sidon, in present-day Lebanon, can be assumed to be the place of manufacture.
The Constable-Maxwell private collection was one of the most important collections of ancient glass of the 20th century. Mr. and Mrs. Constable-Maxwell built their collection in just 20 years. This was achieved with a clear focus on high-quality glasses. And also, the British Andrew Constable Maxwell (1906-1990), who worked as a banker in Switzerland, provided large financial resources for the couple's collection. The collection spanned from Egyptian glasses of the 18th dynasty to Middle Eastern glasses from the Islamic Golden Age. The focus, however, was on glasses from the Roman Empire. The present beaker is singled out as a particularly fine vessel of its kind by Donald Harden when describing the collection in the Catalog of the Constable-Maxwell Collection of Ancient Glass (Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 1979). The showpiece of the collection was a cage cup, which changed hands in 2004 for around 3 million Euros (Bonhams, auction 11380, lot 18).
This piece is the one from Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., Catalogue of the Constable-Maxwell Collection of Ancient Glass (London, 1979), p. 128f, no. 229.
And also in the catalogue Sotheby's, Important Ancient Glass from the Collection formed by the British Rail Pension Fund (London, 1997), p. 42f, no. 15.
The beaker has been described in detail and is depicted in Susan B. Matheson, Ancient Glass in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, 1980), p. 53f, no. 133.
From 1980 to 1985 on loan to The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
From 1985 to 1995 on loan to The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.
The beaker is from a well-known ancient glass production, referred to in literature as Harden K 1 Group iii c. This goes back to the first and still canonical detailed discussion of victory beakers by D. B. Harden "Romano-Syrian Glasses with Mould-blown Inscriptions" in Journal of Roman Studies, Volume XXV (London, 1935), pages 168-188. Harden lists 17 victory cups, while the piece at hand was apparently not known to him at the time and is not included. Many decades later, in 2001, Whitehouse speaks of 20 known specimens in his famous catalogue Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass. That means the number of victory beakers in museums and on the art market is exceedingly small.
We would like to mention the following victory beakers specifically as a parallel, because they are of exactly the same type as the example presented here and they obviously come from the same workshop.
Beaker at Musée des Beaux-Arts Lyon, inventory no. E 382-2.
Beaker at Louvre, inventory no. MNE 136.
Beaker at British Museum, registration no. 1894,1101.108.
Beaker at Corning Museum of Glass, inventory no. 55.1.4.
And on the art market the piece Christie's New York auction 9204 June 3rd 1999, lot 167. It sold for 55 thousand USD.
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