The 7 Glass Wonders

The United Nations declared 2022 the International Year of Glass. Countless events, and activities across the globe took place throughout the year, celebrating glass in all its glory — from science, sustainability, industry and technology, to art, history and culture. 

A worldwide callout was launched to find the 7 Glass Wonders. Over 50 proposals, submitted by regional organisations from each continent, were assessed by an international panel of independent judges. 

I am thrilled to share the 7 Glass Wonders with you:

Glass from the Tomb of Tutankhamun, Cairo, Egypt

Currently at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo and, from 2023 also at the Grand Egyptian Museum, Gizeh.

Tutankhamun’s death mask with glass inlays.
(Photo by Ch. Eckmann, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz)

The Middle East is the place of origin for glass making. More than 3,500 years ago, practitioners in modern Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and other places succeeded in producing outstanding colourful glass objects and vessels.

Only in Egypt, however, in the tombs of the Pharaohs, did these items survive without any wear. Some look as bright as if they had been made yesterday. This is particularly true for the finds from the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was discovered in 1922, more than 3,300 years after his death.

The treasure of glass artefacts from the tomb is exceptionally exquisite, ranging from thousands of elaborate glass inlays, that not only adorn more than 150 pieces of jewellery but also the king’s throne, weapons and even chariots, to full-scale head rests made entirely of glass.

Solid cast glass headrest.
(Photo by Ch. Eckmann, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz)

The blue stripes on the mummy’s mask also consist of glass – some of them are more than 50 cm long, and demonstrate the superb level of glass technology, already at this early stage of its history.

Learn more about the glass from Tutankhamun’s Tomb here.

Lycurgus Cup, The British Museum, London

The Lycurgus Cup displays a miraculous colour effect. Under normal lighting, the glass appears jade green, but when lit from behind, it turns ruby red. Scientists have researched that this phenomenon is due to gold and silver nanoparticles in the glass.

Lycurgus Cup with light from behind appears red.
(Images reproduced with license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 from the British Museum.)

While ancient Romans certainly had no concept of nanotechnology, they were capable of using its effects in ways that could not be replicated for millennia. As amazing as its colour effects is its relief cutting.

Lycurgus Cup with light shining on it appears green.
(Images reproduced with license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 from the British Museum.)

The figures of King Lycurgus, the God Dionysus and others have been carved from the thick-walled blank in a three-dimensional way. The cup is one of the few and most luxurious glass vessels of Roman times, the cage-cups, where the glass blank was painstakingly cut and ground to leave the motif, as a “cage”, suspended from the surface. Among these, the Lycurgus cup is the only well-preserved example with figures.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France

Stained-glass windows in Medieval churches collect the outside light and turn it into shapes that glow in the most striking colours inside the church.

Interior of Sainte-Chapelle.
(Photo by Daniel Parks. License: CC BY-NC 2.0

Windows are often prominent in Gothic cathedrals, but in no other medieval building are the windows as dominant as in the Sainte-Chapelle. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France as the royal chapel and built in record time from 1238 to its consecration on 26 April 1248.

Interior of Sainte-Chapelle looking up.
(Photo by Lawrence OP. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Together with the rose window, 15 stained-glass windows cover a surface area greater than 700 m². 1113 biblical scenes tell the story of the world from its beginning to the arrival of the relics of the Passion of Christ in Paris. While a lot of the glass had to be repaired over time, nearly two-thirds are still the original glass panes dating back nearly 800 years, truly forming walls of light.

The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

The Blaschkas brought the art of flame-working glass to an extreme, and demonstrated that there is nothing in the natural world that could not be perfectly imitated in glass.

An example of the exquisite detail of the Blaschka ‘Flowers’.
(Photo by Lothar Böttcher)

This exceptional collection, better known as the “Blaschka Glass Flowers”, was commissioned by George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of the Botanical Museum at Harvard.

View of the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
(Photo by Allie Caufield. License: CC BY 2.0

Leopold (1822–1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857–1939) were a father and son team of Bohemian glass artists active in Dresden, Germany. Over fifty years, from 1886 to 1936, the Blaschkas produced 4,300 glass models that represent 780 plant species in their finest detail.

The Blaschkas were already renowned for their invertebrate glass models, known to educational institutions and museums around the world, before they commenced on their epic and intricately detailed glass models of plants.

The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, USA

The largest glass collection in the world, combined with a library that seeks to build a comprehensive collection of books, archival, and rare materials about glass, and a studio where artists teach their art of glassmaking.

The Corning Museum of Glass.
(Photo by Corning Museum of Glass)

This outstanding institution was originally conceived by Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. (1906–1990), whose family owned Corning Glass Works, now Corning Incorporated. The Museum opened its doors in the small town in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York in 1951. Despite its distance to large cities, it welcomes more than a quarter of a million visitors from all over the world each year.

The museum is an independent non-profit institution that preserves and expands the world’s understanding of glass, with an educational and aspirational mission: to inspire people to see glass in a new light.

(See CMoG’s blog post on the 7 Glass Wonders)

Optical Fibres

A glass rod, when heated, can be pulled into an ever thinner and seemingly endless glass thread. It was known since the 19th century that these fibres could transport light, but it took until the 1960s for researchers such as Charles Kuen Kao to set the stage for a technological revolution.

Optical Glass Fibres
(Photo: Epic Fireworks License: CC BY 2.0

Since the 1970s, glass fibres about as thick as a human hair are being used to transport huge quantities of information, functioning, in simple terms, as light bouncing in a tube. The network of optical fibre is ever expanding throughout the world. This extensive and invisible network of cables stretches over 1.2 million kilometres globally, delivering emails, news, your favourite films and cute videos of cats almost instantaneously.

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope is the first dedicated observatory launched and deployed into orbit by the space shuttle Discovery on 24 April 1990.

Hubble space Telescope.
(Photo: NASA Hubble Space Telescope License: CC BY 2.0

Two mirrors, made of ultra-low expansion glass (kept at 21°C to avoid warping) offer Hubble its optical capabilities. A primary glass mirror of 2.4 m diameter and weighing approximately 800 kg reflects its light on the 0.3 m secondary mirror.

Hubble Space Telescope primary mirror inspection.
(Photo: NASA Hubble Space Telescope License: CC BY 2.0

Hubble has revealed crystal clear views of our universe—from distant stars and galaxies never before seen, to detailed observations of the planets in our solar system. Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as determining the rate of expansion of the universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope is an international collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and has made more than 1.5 million observations during its 30 years of service.

Located in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin), around 50 million light-years from Earth, NGC 4535 is truly a stunning sight to behold. Despite the incredible quality of this image, taken from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NGC 4535 has a hazy, somewhat ghostly, appearance when viewed from a smaller telescope.
(Photo: Wikimedia License: CC BY 2.0

The 7 Glass Wonders were announced at the closing ceremony of the International Year of Glass (IYOG2022) in Tokyo on the 9th of December 2022 and at the UN Debriefing Session on 14 December 2022.

I would like to thank Teresa Palomar, researcher from VICARTE (Portugal) and ICV-CSIC (Spain), for leading the IYOG2022 7 Glass Wonder project.

I would also like to thank Alicia Duran for her support and guidance to make this project possible.

A big thank you goes out to all the jury members, who guided this historic selection through robust discussions and deliberations to finalise the 7 Glass Wonders.

Thank you Dedo von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk for assisting with the text and images of the 7 Glass Wonders.

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