Ancient mosaic bead necklace. Catalogue 62

This necklace is made up of small beads found in Java. The technique for each one varies but essentially they are made from fused millefiore glass canes which have been cut and then fused around a mandrel. (A mandrel is a metal bar that serves as a core around which the glass may be cast, molded, or otherwise shaped.)

These beads came to us from a dealer who is in contact with tukang antik, those people who find buried treasures. This is a secretive trade so details of exactly how and where they were found are hard to come by, but our belief is that they date from the first millennium AD.

Manufacturing techniques for making the canes for millefiore.

The millefiori technique involves the production of glass canes or rods, known as murrine with multicolored patterns which are viewable only from the cut ends of the cane. The murrine is made by heating coloured glass to the point it becomes plastic. A drop of the molten glass is then taken out of the crucible and is stretched until it becomes a long, thin rod. These rods are bundled together in a cane, the the cross section of which gives the desired pattern. The murrine rod is then heated in a furnace and pulled until thin while still maintaining the cross section's design. It is then cut into beads or discs when cooled.

Murrine production first appeared in the Middle East more than 4,000 years ago but was rediscovered in Venice in the 16th century.

Details of the beads in this necklace

The simplest example in this necklace is the white bead second from the left. The cane had a red rod in its center around which white glass was wrapped, then a thin layer of blue glass and finally a final layer of white glass before being cut into segments and fused around a mandrel. In this instance you can see the horizontal fusion line. While it was still hot this bead was shaped to be round <!-- @page { margin: 2cm } P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm } A:link { so-language: zxx } -->

The next bead in this picture above is made of four segments. These have been fused side by side with the bead hole running between the segments. In the two examples in the following image we are looking at the side view in which you can see the fusion lines.

Eye Beads

The central bead in this picture is an eye bead in which the 'eye is applied to a base bead of green opaque glass.

Eye beads are Beads ornamented with spots or other circular designs that we believe represented eyes represent a very large proportion of all beads made in antiquity.

The earliest glass eye beads, from the 1st millennium BC were made by placing .a spot on a contrasting ground, or a spot with contrasting rings. This ‘spot and ring’ design—occasionally a spot alone—made in glass and added to a basic glass bead eventually became the standard type of glass eye bead.

Around the 7th century BC, the stratified technique became most common, where the craftsman made the eye and its ring by applying pre-made disks of decreasing size on top of each other. A broken stratified eye bead shows all these layers (or ‘strata’) in cross-section. Stratified eyes can be made in several manners. The layers can be built right on the bead, first applying the outer ring, then a middle ring, then the center of the eye. This is very difficult because one is working with hot, softened glass and shapes are difficult to maintain. Alternately, the whole stratified eye could be pre-made, then applied onto the base bead, which presumably provided more control. The eye could be pre-made face up, or face down, letting the softened ring disks sag around the inner layers. Eventually, craftsmen pre-manufactured whole strips of several eyes that were inserted as a row on the base bead.

During the 3rd century a faster eye forming method gained the favour of the more technologically advanced workshop: the mosaic eye. Once a shop had the know-how to manufacture stocks of mosaic cane with concentric circles, it was much faster to insert a slice of that mosaic cane into a base bead than to manufacture eyes individually. Not all shops were able to produce mosaic cane (or purchase pre-made mosaic cane) from others, and so both techniques remained in use.

The eye symbol has always played an important role in magic beliefs and practices. Eye beads were commonly seen as apotropaic [apotropaic: having the power to prevent evil or bad luck], their primary function being that of protecting against the ‘Evil Eye.’. . . Seen from a more general perspective, the Evil Eye concept can be regarded as symbolizing the fears and anxieties we all face. It is indeed encountered in diverse cultures and periods of time. . . Even so, there may have been instances in which eye beads were appreciated more for their decorative value. Any symbol in use for a long time is likely to become part of convention and tradition and lose some of its magical application in the process.

We have to guess at the technique used here and my guess is that the eye was formed using a lampwork method.of applying the color.

Face beads

There are several face beads in this necklace. Once again face beads have been made since at least the 2nd cent BC in both Roman and Ptolemaic cultures. The examples in this necklace are possibly made by applying a disc from the mosaic cane containing the face onto a red base, however I cannot rule out that again it is segments of a cane fused together.


Traditional mosaic beads

 Finally, there are several brown and white mosaic beads which are rectangular canes that have been segmented and fused.



In the Corning Museum there is a similar mosaic bead from the Roman era (2nd cent) which had a face included.

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