The objective of the Magiche Trasparenze exhibition is to create an exhibition where you can appreciate the glass finds recovered during the excavations in the necropolis of Albenga, among which there is a unique piece in the world, the so-called Blue Plate . The variety of shapes and colors and the considerable quantity of materials define the complex of ancient Albenga glass as one of the most conspicuous finds of recent years: it is made up of almost 200 pieces of inestimable value.

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The Exhibition

Through "Magical transparencies" an important act is carried out in the enhancement of a city that has given much and continues to give to the development and growth of Italian and world archaeological science, just think of the enormous work done here in the first half of the last century by prof. Lamboglia , father of modern underwater archeology, and the recent findings in the riverbed of the Centa river and in the Pontelungo area by the Superintendence of Archaeological Heritage of Liguria.

The title of this exhibition dedicated to Albenga's Roman glass emphasizes the extraordinary, almost alchemical and therefore "magical" process of transformation thanks to which a pure and translucent product is obtained from an opaque and heavy material, such as silica. , almost incorporeal, as is glass. The experience of the glassmaker in fact resembles that of the alchemist in a certain sense: in his workshop, similar to a mysterious laboratory, the glassmaker elaborates secret recipes, handed down from father to son, in the continuous search for inimitable colors and transparencies.

The research conducted in recent years by the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Liguria, in particular the excavations in the necropolis, as well as providing new and valuable information on the topography of Albingaunum, whose site coincides with the historic center of the modern city, has brought to light a large number of finds, including those on display. The importance of these artifacts, which are placed within a chronological period between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, is manifold.

Along with more common objects there are glass coming from the borders of the Empire, such as the Middle East or Egypt, often with rare or even unparalleled shapes which, thanks to the association in the context of discovery with better known objects, it is possible date with certainty. The data obtained from them also provide important elements of evaluation - completely new and unpublished - on the presence and circulation of goods in the western Ligurian territory, for which, until now, the data available to scholars were very scarce. Their variety offers the starting point for considerations never attempted before, highlighting the liveliness of the Albingaunese seaport , where products, from large consumption to luxury ones, arrived from the most diverse areas of the Mediterranean. Each of the glass elements on display has been separated from the archaeological context of origin and "relocated", together with other objects that complete the picture, in its original area of use (canteen, kitchen, pantry, pharmacy, toilet, game, etc. .).

The dating and scientific classification of each find are however guaranteed by explanatory panels accompanying each case and by a specific chapter of the catalog available in which all the objects on display are presented in their original context. After a first section, dedicated to the history of glass processing in which the furnace of a glassmaker is reproduced (from the Museum of Glass Art in Altare), the exhibition of the finds follows: first the section dedicated to cosmetics and the care of body (balms, containers for ointments and perfumes, but also splendid jewels and tools for the toilet), then the area related to the kitchen and banquet (plates, cups, glasses, bottles, jugs, cups, bowls, trays, amphorae, jars, gutti, casseroles, and even flutes ...).

As a novelty, compared to other exhibitions on Roman glass, it was considered interesting to present the various types of glass together with some ceramic or metal prototypes from which they derive in form and function, to underline how glass fits into the ancient market as substitute for other products, of which it often reproduces the most common forms. The next stage specifically concerns the city of Albenga, through models, maps and graphic reconstructions we try to recreate the environment of the ancient Albingaunum with its thermal baths, the busy port and the busy (for the time ... ) via that led to the Gauls, the Julia Augusta which, just outside the walls, overlooked the necropolis. Two complete grave goods with the relative photographic documentation of the archaeological excavation are also presented.

The Big Blue Plate

The highlight of the exhibition is at the end of the exhibition: it is the cobalt blue plate on which two cherubs dancing in honor of Bacchus have been carved. And these two urchins have the attributes and characters of the god of wine and mystical delirium, as well as the licentious characters of his procession. The winged putto holds a six-reed musical instrument, called a syringe, and a curved shepherd's staff (pedum); the other, on the other hand, clasps the thyrsus and carries a strange burden on his shoulders, a skinskin of feral skin that clearly refers to the nectar of the gods and intoxication. After the mold casting, the master glassmaker ground and sanded the glass on both faces and then decorated it with carvings on the wheel and on the lathe, and finally completed the freehand work with precision engravings of which not even a single goldsmith would be capable. A true artist who, if he is not from Alexandria in Egypt, undoubtedly stole the trade from the Alexandrian masters. The chiaroscuro effect of the modeling is absolutely original, so much so that the cherubs seem to have the depth of a high relief, the plasticity of the sculptural forms, the precision of the chiseled or embossed figures in silver to which they add the transparency and movements that only glass knows how to confer.

The discovery of the cobalt blue plate in a Roman tomb near the current center of Albenga caused amazement, both for its beauty and because it dared to unhinge the doors of the sanctuary to which archaeologists are most devoted: the one dedicated to chronology. The first glass carved with figurative scenes was believed to date back to the beginning of the third century AD. Only a few glasses of similar but very fragmentary manufacture, found in the royal palace of Begram, in Afghanistan, had questioned this certainty, but the fact that they had been excavated in the 1930s with antiquated and unreliable methods, downgraded this hypothesis to the rank of supposition devoid of any scientific seal. The blue plate of Albenga, which was found next to objects of a funerary outfit clearly dating back to the beginning of the second century AD, dates back more than a century to the introduction of the technique of carving to create figured scenes on glass. Certainty also supported by radiocarbon analyzes on the ashes of the deceased and on the coals of the wood used in the pyre, since it was a so-called "direct cremation" tomb, as it provided for the corpse to be cremated in the burial place. Admiring the splendid objects on display it seems that almost two millennia have not passed at all. Then as today, glass was used to present and preserve food and drinks, but also to contain or burn perfumes, to accommodate ointments, ointments and medicines, without forgetting its decorative and playful function: it took the form of "wedding favors", of glass beads for necklaces and bracelets, not to mention the pawns of board games.

As the curator of the exhibition Bruno Massabò points out, the uses of glass multiplied "after the revolutionary invention of glass blowing, around the middle of the first century BC, and the consequent development of production on an industrial scale, which meant that this extraordinary material enters common use, supplanting ceramic and metal in many functions ". Before this time, the particular complexity of its workmanship made it a luxury reserved only for the aristocracy, and initially the exclusive prerogative of the royal canteens. In the first century, on the other hand, Trimalcione, the bizarre character of Petronius' "Satyricon", during his famous banquet could specify that "glasses are also cheap". On the other hand, the banquet scenes, present in a suggestive garden recreated by the fitters, belong to the homonymous Fellini version, which lower the visitor into that atmosphere of Dionysian intoxication of which glass was an integral part.

And it is in a similar context that a valuable object like the blue plate, from a mere container of food, could become a means of ostentation, an "ante litteram" status symbol. The exhibition will not fail to arouse curiosity and wonder: the fascinating sound of glass made by a very original carillon, the musical background of the glass harmonium, for which the greatest composers have written works, the possibility of trying perfumes and balms created specifically on original Roman “recipes”, in addition to the beauty of the setting enriched by multimedia contents, they will involve the guest in a unique multi-sensorial experience.

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All the museums of Albenga