Historismus or Historical
Revival Glass: from
the Glass Encyclopedia

Historismus glass vase
above: Historismus glass
designed by H. Powell
for Whitefriars Glass



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Historismus Glass
Historismus or Historical Revival Glass: A short explanation:

Historismus Glass or, as it is sometimes called, Historical Revival Glass, is a deliberate reproduction of a much older glass item or glass style. It is not a fake, as there was usually no intention to pass the new pieces off as old. It was very popular during the 19th century for glass artists to copy antique glass from an earlier age. Many 19th century glassworks' catalogues show pages and pages of designs from much earlier periods. The most popular periods were Venetian glass of the 16th and 17th centuries, and German glass of the medieval years (13th to 15th centuries).

An exhibition called "Ancient and Medieval Art" was held in London in 1850 by the Society of Arts, and included many pieces of Venetian glass from the 16th and 17th centuries (including more than 30 pieces from the Slade Collection which was later gifted to the British Museum). The publicity surrounding this exhibition and the access it provided to Venetian designs contributed to the Venetian revival which took place in the second half of the 19th century in Britain, in Venice itself, and elsewhere in Europe.

In Europe there was also considerable interest in reproducing medieval German glass such as Humpen, Roemers, Kuttrolfs and Hochschnitt goblets. There were claims made at the time, that the revival glassware was indistinguishable from the originals. However, the glass used was usually much heavier and there were differences in style and detail. Nevertheless, the amateur should be careful, because these historismus pieces were sometimes marked with the date for the originals.

The Historismus period was generally replaced by later styles such as Art Nouveau at the turn of the century. However, one very notable exception was the work of Harry Powell at the Whitefriars Glassworks. He took a great deal of interest in ancient designs and adapted items from ancient pottery and other materials as well as pictures of glasses from old paintings. He kept detailed notebooks of where the original design was found.

The goblet above left was designed by Harry Powell based on an ancient Egyption faience cup in the British Museum. This goblet was believed to be lost, and when Judy Rudoe wrote her article about Harry Powell's "Glasses with Histories" in the book by Lesley Jackson "Whitefriars Glass", she wrote that no example of this item had been found. This example was found by David Walker Barker at an antiques fair in the North of England, having no idea of its significance at the time. We are grateful to David for permission to use this picture, as the goblet has since been authenticated by Judy Rudoe (British Museum) and Lesley Jackson (Manchester City Art Galleries).


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References and Further Reading


1: Sotheby's Concise Encyclopedia of Glass edited by David Battie and Simon Cottle, 1991.

2: Glass Source Book by Jo Marshall, published by Collins and Brown, 1990.

3: Whitefriars Glass - the Art of James Powell & Sons by Lesley Jackson, published by Richard Dennis, 1996.

4: Das Bohmische Glass Band III Historismus by J. Brozova, 1995.

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