Fragility and Nobility: 19th Century Masterpieces of European Glass: Seoul

Barakat Seoul will be presenting the Barakat glass collection with the exhibition Fragility and Nobility from Wednesday, April 17 to Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Reminiscent of jewelry with its luster and beauty, glass is a medium that demands exquisite care in its manufacture and processing. The glassware has long been regarded as precious, straddling the boundary between the artistic and practical with their delicate fragility and beautiful shapes.

To truly appreciate the glass of 19th century Europe, one must understand about its history, economy, and culture. This exhibition was curated as a way of looking at the value of glassware juxtaposed with the complex historical situation of Europe in the 1800s. Among other items, visitors to Fragility and Nobility: 19th Century Masterpieces of European Glass can encounter the Moser collection, beloved by royals; Bohemia-Indian glassware produced for the Indian market; French mosque lamps designed for both the Islamic market and a European market favoring Islamic patterns; and Hispano-Moresque Bohemian glassware combining elements of Spanish and North African culture. 

Considered a luxury among the European upper class, glassware reached its zenith during the Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. Roman craftsmen chiefly produced glass items in translucent greens and blues, which nobles used as vessels to hold valuable liquids. In the 15th century, the Venetian island of Murano emerged as a hub of glass production. Characterized by its milky coloring and pottery-like surface, Murano glass was hugely popular among the upper class throughout Europe and the Islamic world. The kingdom of Bohemia followed in the footsteps of the Murano style, taking advantage of developments in technology, science, and mining to produce outstandingly transparent and lustrous Bohemian glass – considered one of the top forms of glassware since the 17th century. 

As domestic and overseas markets grew in 19th century Europe with imperialism and developments in transportation, rivalries for market share intensified among countries, and the market for glass was no exception. Innumerable glassware produces began emerging from all corners to meet the massive demand. It was this period that saw the founding of Moser, a glass manufacturer that captivated elites ranging from the sultans of the Ottoman Empire to the Pope in the Vatican and the Portuguese royal house. Glassware makers sought to elevate their home countries’ stature with awards at international exposition, while focusing on triumphing over intense competition to produce historic works and capture domestic and overseas markets.

It was an also era that saw a greater desire for luxury culture than ever before, as well as a high point for exoticism, a yearning for the foreign. The Industrial Revolution had given rise to a middle class boasting immense wealth, members of which used the collapse of the status-based system as a pretext for experiencing the kinds of culture that only the aristocracy had enjoyed in the past. At the same time, exoticism reached new heights in the wake of romanticism for wealthy intelligences and leaving glass producers competing to produce luxurious pieces of an exotic character. 

Fragility and Nobility: 19th Century Masterpieces of European Glass focuses its attention on the complex interweaving of economic, culture, and psychological factors in 19th century European glassware. This is an opportunity to see works of glass boasting such a richly exotic quality that it is difficult to believe they were produced in the same Europe as the luxurious glassware favored by members of the upper class with a taste for sophisticated culture—and the members of the middle class seeking to emulate them. We look forward to this being a special occasion for experiencing the tumultuous history of 19th century Europe through its sparkling works of glass.