Ennion, the Rembrandt – or Armani? – of Roman Glass

THE DAILY PIC: One of the first glassblowers to sign his name created a brand.


THE DAILY PIC: This is one of the amazing blown-glass vessels on view in “Ennion: Master of Roman Glass”, a wonderful little show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The exhibition looks at a watershed moment in Western art–as important, I’d say, as when Netherlanders discovered oil paint or the Italians came up with perspective. It’s the moment when ancient Roman artisans discovered blown glass, or at least it’s the moment right after that, when they learned to blow it into a mold and achieve repeatable results – around 30 AD, the time of the Crucifixion, in fact. (A coincidence? Ask Dan Brown.) The glassworker called Ennion, from the Roman Middle East (another coincidence?) was one of that moment’s big names, literally. He signed his products, as few glassworkers had done before, and sold them to elite patrons right across the Roman world. But I wonder if it’s wrong to think of him as the literal maker of his objects, according to the model we use to think about Rembrandt and his unique signature. (A model that’s probably wrong, even in Rembrandt’s case.) Given that mold-blowing is all about repeatability, rather than the unique one-off, I wonder if “Ennion” should maybe be thought of more as a brand than a maker, the way the brand “Armani” refers to a particular inventive artist, without implying that the garment you hold was sewn, or even tailored, by him. That’s more or less the way the Romans thought about the statues of genius artists like Praxiteles and Milo, which were then available–and valued–in any number of versions and knock-offs. Maybe that’s the pantheon Ennion belongs in–alongside my man Andy Warhol, who also messed with ideas of authenticity and branding. (Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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