Ancient Glass Pieces Found to Be Decorated with Gold Foil

84 pieces of antique broken glassware were found under a Buddhist statue in 2004, in Kyoto’s Byodoin temple. Two days ago, on October 7th, temple authorities announced that they had originally been decorated with gold foil. This discovery is the first finding of gold-foil decoration on glassware in all of East Asia.

A glassware history researcher and part-time instructor at Tokai University, Akiko Inoue, analyzed the pieces, and concluded that the vessels must have had a special significance.

The fact that “they were treated so importantly even though they were broken pieces suggests the original vessels they came from may have had some special meaning,” Inoue said.

Experts believe that the original glass vessels were made through glassblowing, though with a more advanced technique than some other glass balls found alongside them. Basing their theory on both technique and technology, researchers concluded that the pieces were made between the 10th and 12th century in China, while the gold foil was likely added in Japan.

Now on display at the Hosho Museum, the pieces still present several mysteries. Yoshitaka Aruga, a professor of the Tokyo University of the Arts, said the patterns are “simple and pictorial.” He added that the pattern on the lid looks like it could signify trickling rain. “The patterns let us imagine ancient times,” he said.

Norihiko Ogura, a professor at the same university, said the design can be seen as the inner core of a flower, as well. “There are probably meanings to the designs and the fact that gold was used, but these and many other things, including technical questions like how they applied the gold leaf, are still mysteries,” he said.

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