Tiffany's Agate Glass
Louis C. Tiffany often exploited the transformative potential of glass in service of imitating other materials. Working under his direction, Tiffany’s chemists pioneered new and innovative ways to make decorative glass, however the idea of using glass to imitate other materials dates back to the origins of glassmaking. Early glassmakers would commonly use coloring agents in the form of metallic oxides to mimic the rich variety of colors found in highly prized semi-precious stones. For example, the addition of cobalt to the glass batch yields a blue color similar to lapis lazuli.1 The medium of glass allowed these early glassmakers to replicate the artistic effects of expensive stones in a more cost-effective way. Additionally, they were no longer confined to the organic striations found within the natural stones themselves, but could instead create the patterns and color combinations they so desired. Among the most popular early glass facsimiles were examples that imitated agate.
First made by the ancient Romans (Fig. 1), agate glass was further developed by the Venetians (Fig. 2) in the late fifteenth century.2 Though Tiffany's "agateware" vessels would later become a long-standing staple of his furnaces' production, his first use of agate glass appeared in the form of flat sheets. In reference to the early opalescent glass produced for Tiffany and La Farge, an article from 1881 describes: “There are not only imitations of the old ruby, topaz, purple, etc., but there is also glass which imitates the chalcedony and the moss-agate....”3 Shortly after the opening of Tiffany’s Stourbridge Glass Company in 1893 (later Tiffany Furnaces), he began manufacturing his own agate glass, again in the form of flat sheets for his leaded windows (Fig. 3).
Tiffany's agate glass was quickly adapted to create three-dimensional blown vessels, and Tiffany may have even exhibited his new agateware at the first exhibition of his blown glass in 1894. A period article about the exhibition states: "Most interesting is the special exhibit of nearly 100 subjects by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. Part of their department is a new glass of their own manufacture imitating some of the richest colors and effects of Venetian and Roman Art."4 The swirling symphonies of colors in the vases pictured here (Fig. 4 and Fig. 5) perfectly exemplify such “agateware.” With their faceted surfaces, the vases' forms further accentuate their stone-like appearance. Rather than relying on the chemical properties of the glass batch alone, Tiffany’s glassblowers recreated agate’s arresting striations by hand — manipulating the glass while hot with the addition of multiple colors and inclusions such as slices of millefiori canes. The result of their efforts is true realism in harmony with artistic expression, and a celebration of the boundless possibilities of glass as a transformative medium itself. Tiffany’s agate vases continued to be produced into the mid-1920s, a testament to both their aesthetic appeal and commercial success.5
1 For more information, see “The Origins of Glassmaking,” The Corning Museum of Glass, published on December 1, 2011, https://www.cmog.org/article/origins-glassmaking.
2 Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, “Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Metropolitan Museum,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 56, no. 1 (Summer 1998): 59–61.
3 R. Riordan, “American Stained Glass—Second Article,” The American Art Review 2, no. 7 (May 1881): 10.
4 "The Architectural Exhibition," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 15, 1894, p. 23.
5 Paul E. Doros, The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany, New York: Vendome Press, 2013, 159.
Citation: Albahary, Morgan. "Tiffany's Agate Glass." In Tiffany Tidbits. New York: The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass.
http://theneustadt.org/tiffany-s-agate-glass (July 2018)