Hedwig glass

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The Hedwig beaker at the British Museum

Hedwig glasses or Hedwig beakers are a type of glass beaker originating in the Middle East or Norman Sicily and dating from the 10th-12th centuries AD. They are named after the Silesian princess Saint Hedwig (1174–1245), to whom three of them are traditionally said to have belonged.[1] So far, a total of 14 complete glasses are known.[2] The exact origin of the glasses is disputed, with Egypt, Iran and Syria all suggested as possible sources; if they are not of Islamic manufacture they are certainly influenced by Islamic glass.[3][4] Probably made by Muslim craftsmen, some of the iconography is Christian, suggesting they may have been made for export or for Christian clients.[5] The theory that they instead originate from Norman Sicily in the 11th century was first fully set out in a book in 2005 by Rosemarie Lierke, and has attracted some support from specialists.[6]


All 14 of the complete Hedwig glasses so far known all have roughly the same form: they are squat, thick-walled and straight-sided with a flange around the base. They are around 14 cm high and have a diameter of nearly 14 cm. All but one are richly decorated with wheel-cut relief with hatched details.

The glasses are mostly of a smoky metal colour with a couple of greenish or yellowish glass. The decorations are in two styles: four have abstract decorations derived from Samarra Style C; another eight have zoomorphic decorations of lions, griffins and eagles and palm trees.[1]

They were probably made in emulation of the rock crystal carved vessels made in Fatimid Egypt rather earlier, which were objects of great luxury in the Middle Ages, and have also mostly survived in church treasuries.;[6] an example can be seen in the Treasury of St Mark's Basilica in Venice, which also possesses a rock-crystal ewer in the same style. A number of the glasses were elaborated into reliquaries, or in one case a chalice, during the Middle Ages, with the addition of goldsmith's work, including those at Namur, Krakow and Halberstadt (see below). Lierke suggests that notches in the bases of many indicate that they were originally given other metalwork settings, perhaps as chalices, but none of these have survived.[7] Seven of the known Hedwig glasses have 13th- to 15th-century metal mounts.[8]


The Hedwig glasses were clearly high status objects. According to Ettinghausen and Grabar, writing in 1987, so far no examples of this type of glass have been found in the Near East: "all the preserved pieces come from the treasuries of Western churches and noble houses".[1] Small shards of broken Hedwig glasses have been found in excavations. In common with many Islamic objects imported into medieval Europe, they were credited with more antiquity than was in fact the case. The Amsterdam goblet carries the inscription: "Alsz diesz glas war alt tausent jahr Es Pfalzgraf Ludwig Philipsen verehret war: 1643" ("When this glass was a thousand years old, it was given to Ludwig Philipsen, Count Palatine: 1643")

As of 2009, 14 complete Hedwig glasses and ten additional fragments are known.[2]



Fragment from Navahrudak, Belarus

The British Museum's example is a "Highlight" object and was selected as the 57th object in the series A History of the World in 100 Objects selected by British Museum director Neil MacGregor and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2010.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ettinghausen and Grabar 196-7
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Wedepohl and Kronz
  3. ^ a b "Hedwig glass beaker " The British Museum". Britishmuseum.org. 1959-04-14. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  4. ^ "Search object details". British Museum. 2010-05-14. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  5. ^ a b "A History of the World – Object: Hedwig glass beaker". BBC. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  6. ^ a b c "Hedwig Beakers". Rosemarie-lierke.de. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  7. ^ Image of a chalice (? or reliquary) in Lierke. The notches can be seen in the image of the Corning Museum example.
  8. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20090708101559/http://www.cmog.org/dynamic.aspx?id=3016. Archived from the original on July 8, 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Pinder-Wilson, pp. 43-45
  10. ^ Corning Museum of Glass page; "Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants at Corning Museum of Glass". artmuseumjournal.com. 2010-05-15. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  11. ^ "Google Books search for the Nuremberg Hedwig glass". Google.co.uk. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  12. ^ a b c Erdmann 244
  13. ^ "Cathedral Museum in Krakow". krakow-info.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  14. ^ a b "Islamic cut glass beaker (Corning Museum of Glass)". The Burlington Magazine. JSTOR 875706. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  15. ^ Wedepohl
  16. ^ "Какие тайны хранят развалины Новогрудского замка". КП. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  17. ^ von Stein
  18. ^ Wedepohl, Merta, Pesek and Sedlácková
  19. ^ Muzeum w Nysie
  20. ^ "Musei nella regione di Nysa". Cammini d'Europa. Cammini d'Europa. Retrieved 21 August 2014.


Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, E. N., The Hedwig Glasses, A Survey, 1987, Hyatsville, Maryland.
  • Brend, B., 1991, Islamic Art London, The British Museum Press
  • Carboni, Stefano; Whitehouse, David (2001). Glass of the sultans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 0870999869.
  • Hayward Gallery, 1976, The Arts of Islam London/Hayward Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain page 141
  • Husband, Timothy B., 2009, "The Asseburg-Hedwig Glass Re-emerges" The Four Modes of Seeing: Approaches to Medieval Imagery in Honor of Madeline Harrison Caviness, edited by Evelyn Staudinger Lane, Elizabeth Carson Pastan, and Ellen M. Shortell, pp. 44–62. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2009.
  • Lierke, Rosemarie. Die Hedwigsbecher – das normannisch- sizilische Erbe der staufischen Kaiser, 2005, F. Rutzen Verlag, Mainz/Ruhpolding, ISBN 3-938646-04-7
  • Shalem, Avinoam, 1998, Islam Christianized: Islamic portable objects in the medieval church treasuries of the Latin West Volume 7 of Ars faciendi
  • Tait, H. (ed.), 1991, Five Thousand Years of Glass London: The British Museum Press

External links[edit]

Preceded by
56: Vale of York Hoard
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Object 57