The Hedwig Beakers (or glasses) are a set of 14 glass drinking beakers that are rumored to have belonged to Saint Hedwig, a Silesian princess. These beakers are thought to have been made somewhere between the 10th and 12th centuries, though the exact date is unclear. Also unclear is the origin of these glasses, though it can be certain that Islamic glass played a role in making them. Archaeologists best guesses as to the origin of these glasses are Egypt, Sicily, or Persia.
These mysterious beakers are made of glass in a variety of colors and hues. Some of the glasses are made of green or yellow glass while the majority of them are made with a smoky metallic glass. Each of the glasses appear to have been made by Islamic glass crafters, or at least glass crafters who were under strong Islamic influence.
These Islamic glass crafters used very fine and intricate methods to make these glasses. According to Stefano Carboni of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, scratch-engraved techniques and the fine incisions that comprise the Hedwig beakers were created by using a mounted piece of diamond, topaz or other hard material.
Most of the beakers are inscribed with a variety of animals and Christian symbols. These styles, though popular of the time seem to be divergent from the Egyptian scratch-engravings of the time, which furthers mystifies the origins of these beakers. Some beakers have eagles, others have lions, while others still have Christian symbology such as crosses and cherubim. These Christian symbols seem to point to the fact that some of these glasses might have been made by Islamic glass makers and given to Christian patrons.
Local Historical ContextEdit
As mentioned above, the origins of these beakers are still hotly debated today. While the engravings and style of glass crafting makes it likely the creators were Islamic, the possibility of the glasses originating from any number of places is likely. A highly likely possibility is Egypt or possibly Persia. However, what we do know is that these beakers were made largely for churches in the 11th and 12th centuries. We know this because 7 of the 14 beakers (and pieces of a 15th beaker) were found in churches and the treasuries of churches. In fact, according to Kurt Erdmann of the Burlington Magazine, one of the glasses was even in the possession of Martin Luther at one point.
It was during these centuries (11th and 12th) that both of the civilizations that the beakers could have come from, had relatively peaceful eras. The Persians had been overtaken by the Seljuk Turks and were flourishing under their rule, turning out thousands of beautiful pieces of art, metallurgy, and new technologies. On the other hand, Egypt was reveling in the Fatimid Dynasty, established some three hundred years prior. These Fatimid rulers emphasized the arts, causing it to grow in leaps and bounds, according to Suzan Yalman of the Metro Museum of Art. In addition, the Fatimid rulers also placed great emphasis on long-distance trade, which could possibly explain the varying locations that these beakers were found in.
The civilization that made these beakers, be that Egypt, Persia, or even Sicily, obviously had some skill at glass working. The intricacy of these beakers can attest to that. In addition though, this type of scratch-engraving is seen in the art of the Islamic world for several more centuries. These beakers were simply part of the ongoing trade routes that flourished between China, the Middle East, Europe, and the Mediterranean.
While we obviously know very little solid fact about these beakers, it is clear that they are representative of a time of great enlightenment among the world. Not only were material goods spreading, there was also the spread of religion, ideas, and new technologies. These beakers, with their intricate, Islamic cut glass appear to represent this idea completely.
“Islamic Cut Glass Beaker,” Burlington Magazine, July 1968, pg. 405+411
Erdmann, Kurt, “An Unknown Hedwig Glass,” Burlington Magazine, September 1949, pg. 247-249
Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Art of the Fatimid Period (909-1171).” Last accessed April 19, 2011. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/fati/hd_fati.htm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Cut and Engraved Glass from Islamic Lands.” Last accessed April 19, 2011. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cutg/hd_cutg.htm.