One of the oldest materials to have been made by humans, glass continues to play an important role in many facets of daily life today. Archaeological evidence provides clues to the emergence of proto-glass artifacts in ancient Egypt and Western Asia around 3000 BCE. The production of glass may have evolved from faience, a sintered siliceous material with vitrified surface and frit, which is fired at higher temperatures. In China, glass has also had a long history, and is known by a variety of names in historical texts. Archaeological discoveries of the Western Zhou period (1046-771 BCE) have revealed similar early forms of glass-like material, consisting mainly of silicon dioxide partially vitrified under firing. Over the course of its history in China, glass has been valued for its resemblance to precious natural substances, including polished jade and gemstones. In addition to its enticing luster and subtle aesthetic features ranging from opacity, to translucence and crystalline clarity, glass has manifested its multi-functional properties through optical and other evolving applications, inspiring exploration and creation.
Objects made of or featuring glass in the National Palace Museum collection come primarily from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) imperial court. They include costume accessories, objects of the scholar's studio, and various containers, display items, and composite pieces. Many were originally stored in curio boxes, representing prized objects made for the court or acquired as Western rarities. Despite their small size, these glass objects display unique craftsmanship and exemplify the diverse developments in glasswork under the supervision of the Qing court. This exhibition of glassware from the Museum collection mainly comprises glass artifacts from the Qing court, including objects made mostly with glass, inlays of glass, and optical components. They are displayed alongside proto-glass objects and artifacts of related materials for comparison in terms of form, manufacturing techniques, and color expression. Taken together, this exhibition demonstrates the cultural heritage as well as exchange and transformation in the art of glassmaking during the Qing dynasty.