Do you know that Czech crystal is not just glasses, vases, bowls and decanters, but also jewelery and various accessories?
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Fragile art, strong tradition - Czech crystal glass throughout the history
The cradle of life not only for nations
Glass, like civilization, was born in Mesopotamia, sometime around the 3rd millennium BC. Of course at that time it was far from the form we are now used to. It was very impure and was mainly used to make beads for decorative purposes. The bead is thus historically the first glass product. It has been decorating our lives for 5,000 years.
Thank you, Celts
The first glass came to our territory in the form of glass beads thanks to barter trade from the Middle East about 4,000 years ago. The actual production of glass began much later, in the La Tène period - 400 years BC, thanks to the Celts (Buoys), who lived in our territory. They mainly produced decorative items such as beads, bracelets, pendants, drawn pearls, vessels and it is quite possible that the ingot, which was the subject of the trade. Thank you, Celts.
The first steps of glassworks
The first time the was mentioned in the history of the Czech terriotory was in 1162 AD. The term "glassworks" is used after 1250 AD. Glassworks were located in then unexplored areas of forested border mountains (Lužické, Krušné, Jizerské mountains, ...), wood was a vital part of the development of glassmaking. In the same way, in the Czech basin, where there was a major deposit of silica sand and enough water, two other essential components of the nascent glass craft.
The glass then was full of bubbles and had a typical green-yellowish color, which was determined by the amount of iron oxide and limestone in the sand. According to the "greenness" or "yellowness", it was and still is possible to determine from which area the glass comes. This glass can be known as the "Forest Glass", which is ethereally charming and has its loyal admirers to this day.
Since about 1450 AD, even the oldest glassworks have produced almost clear glass, but there still was a subtle coloration of green or yellow. Vitrages and and wine cup are most common for this era. In the Gothic period, glass was widely used to make glass windows for settlements, dwellings, and so the ancestors of glass windows, as we know them now, were created.
Forest glass, source: Pexels
Renaissance and the material that everyone loved
Glass has become a really popular material over time. It attracted artists and craftsmen from all over Europe. Everyone loved glass. Thanks to the fact that glassmakers made objects for the common household during their free time, glass also spread among ordinary people. The highest classes then demanded it for its splendor and luxury. Rudolf II loved glass so much that he promoted 2 families of glassmakers to aristocratic status. Czech glass began to be hungrily demanded throughout Europe. In the 16th century, glass objects began to be decorated in large numbers by painting, striping, painting gold, forging, engraving and grinding.
The objects were decorated with colorful enamel paintings and engravings. The first deep engraving was created by the German artist Kašpar Lehmann, and it started grinding glass. There was also a demand for colored glass, not only forest glass, but also white, red, blue and black. But mostly clear - and that was the birth of Czech crystal. And because it was beautiful to look at and also far firmer than its predecessors, it became a much sought-after luxury item. Thanks to him, Czech glassmaking acquired a monopoly character for the next two centuries.
from the artworks of Caspar Lehmanna, source wikipedia.org
In the Baroque period (17th - 18th century), Czech glass even overshadowed the legendary Venetian production, and thus became the top in Europe. After the thin-walled glass came the trend of thick-walled glass. Baroque was a lavish time, so the decorations were not spared here. It was constantly decorated with engravings, cuts, paints, gold, ... Now the decoration with sealed pastes in the Biedermeier style is added. Cups, teapots and large chalices were typical, ... A great boom also occurred in Kamenický Šenov, where chandeliers with glass pendants were made and are made to this day. These chandeliers were large, heavy and lusterous. They adorned the most noble mansions throughout Europe and still do till today. The glass trade was constantly developing and so-called companies of traders were created, which moved Czech glass on a large scale to all corners of our continent. At this time, Jablonec jewelery also gained its basis.
ilustrational foto - magnificent crystal chandeliers, source: canva.com
The Industrial Revolution
With the arrival of the industrial revolution, glassmaking is undergoing another important development. With the development of railway transport and the discovery of the Siemens generator, glassworks are no longer tied to places with an abundance of forest cover and are heading to the industrial centers of our country, especially near coal mines or railways. Nový Bor is becoming a place of development of glass technology. Progress pushes everything forward and reveals further potential. On the other hand, there is also an effort to preserve tradition. Handicraft art in combination with new possibilities and procedures prepared space for the further development of applied art.
When the centuries turn
The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was a sign of Art Nouveau, which was not only an artistic direction, but a lifestyle. In 1900, the World's Fair was held in Paris, where Czech glassmakers were represented by great numbers. A huge success and fertile ground for the further fame of Czech glass was winning the Grand Prix in its category, which was won by Czech glassmakers from the Lötz glassworks in Klášterský Mlýn. They obtained it for their perfect work with iridescent glass, which is a rainbow-shiny glass that changes the color of its reflections according to the angle of light. This kind of glass is achieved by the application of vapors of various types of oxides.
New processes and technologies were discovered, one of which was the installation of Owens automatic machines for the production of bottles or the efficient machine production of flat glass. Czech glassmaking was launched to stellar heights.
Vase made of iridescent glass, Klášterský Mlýn, 1898, source: wikipedia.org
Period of wars
With the arrival of World War I, many smaller glassworks disappeared. Production fell by half. The desire to stay at the top of world glassmaking was reflected in artistic rendering and designs. Even the most famous Czech artists took part in the designs and thus highlighted decorativism in a new style - Art Deco. The decors are mainly ornamental, colorful and contrasting, underlined by a cut.
With the establishment of a new school in Železný Brod, the first glass figures were created. Mr. Ladislav Prostředník from Dobruška used the PK500 model for his products for the first time. Thanks to him, the most luxurious chandeliers were created, which still decorate the interiors of opera buildings in European and American capitals.
The artistic response to the elaborate Art Deco style was Functionalism. So the complete opposite. Functionalism focused on purposefulness, practicality and simplicity, in which beauty lies. This style was characterized by transparency of shapes, purity of lines and inspiration in basic geometric shapes - cubes, cylinders, cones and their combination (Metelák, Smrčková).
Art deco carafe, source: wikipedia.org
After the wars, glassmaking was not very successful. Due to the USSR, the majority of the glassworks were nationalized, which changed the whole structure of the organization of glass production. The centralized glassworks was named Crystalex and brought together more than 50 glassworks. The headquarters of this colossus was in Nový Bor. The market to the west was closed from day to day and everything traveled to the countries of the Eastern bloc. Glassmaking suffered greatly from this change in the field of art. Quantity was preferred over quality. The automated mass production of utility drinking glass has started.
50s and 60s
The answer to this situation was the design movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when masterpieces and the first glass sculptures were created. The center of this event was in Kamenický Šenov, Nový Bor and Železný Brod. At that time, the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague was responsible for the great enrichment of Czech glass design. During this period, there was also technological research, the use of which in practical life brought us fireproof glass, endless fiber, foam glass, float glass, optical glass, ...
After the Velvet Revolution
And there is a huge change. Again. The glass industry is subjected to the gradual privatization of glassworks. The gigantic Crystalex fell apart. And the individual glassworks continued to create their own glass. Of course, some of them unfortunately disappeared or merged with other smaller units. However, it did not have a dramatic and negative effect on the artistic work of that time. By the end of the millennium, glassmaking had floated by inertia, everything had to settle and once again adapt to the great change, the opening of the west and the collapse of the centralized glassworks.
The new millennium
With the arrival of the new century, the manual production of glass began to decrease considerably, thus endangering the tradition and humanity that undoubtedly belongs to glassmainkg. The impending world crisis and weakening economy have been encouraged by a flood of super-cheap and low-quality glass from Asia. Therefore, automated and mechanical production increased speed, to help Czech glassworks withstand this competition economically.
The glassworks began to fire their employees on a large scale due to this automation and machine production. It ceased to be a place for manual work and human touch. It was going hard on the number of pieces, the main thing was to survive the flood of competitive production from Asia. Many important glassworks specializing in handmade production have disappeared.
This development was observed in the glass industry even outside the Czech Republic, the whole of Europe suffered.
After a brutal selection of functioning glassworks, many owners of the smelters refused to continue this crazy race with the East. They refused to give up the tradition and splendor of handmade glass. They refused to close, fail and give up. That is why they focused their attention on the production of masterpieces and studio pieces with breathtaking designs, or beautiful luxury utility goods made of lead and layered crystal. Feeling, art, human contact and tradition have returned to glass.
In 5,000 years of development, glassmaking is now at its peak. Historical falls and difficulties only strengthened its position in the world of applied art. Glassmaking is currently experiencing an artistic and design boom.
It remains a fragile art with a STRONG tradition.
The glass passes through human hands again, that's how it should be.
At present, Czech glass production focuses on consumer machine production as well as on manual and artistic production of studio quality. The great pride of Czech glassmaking is layered crystal, which can still be produced only by hand, which is why it is also the most valuable and most demanding to produce. It goes through an incredible number of hands before it gets to your house. We have prepared an article for you about its whole journey.