Appeal of Translucency

Detail of a wall painting from a villa at Oplontis near Pompeii
Mid 1st century B.C.

"Apples seem more beautiful if they are floating in a glass." (Lucius Seneca, Investigations in Natural Science I.6)

Early on, the translucency of glass, even though there might be a heavy tinge of green or aquablue, was something that set it apart from opaque materials such as pottery and any metals. Such naturally colored glass was then, and would continue to be, the stock material of the industry for the bulk of domestic needs. But the transparency of colorless glass gave it a much stronger appeal just where one might expect, among the vessels used to serve wine. Glass wine beakers became so popular among the Roman middle classes during the early 1st century A.D. that a previously thriving industry in pottery thin-walled beakers all but collapsed at that time.

Many scholars and poets also were fascinated by glass's transparency. This wall painting is a perfect echo of the historian Seneca's view, that a glass bowl is the most dramatic way to show off a mixture of fruits during the final course of an evening meal.