The aim of the Magical Transparencies exhibition is to create an exhibition where you can appreciate the glassy 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 the considerable quantity of the materials define the complex of the ancient glasses of Albenga as one of the most conspicuous finds of recent years: it is in fact composed of almost 200 pieces of inestimable value.

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The Exhibition

Through "Magical transparencies" an important act takes place in the enhancement of a city that has given much and continues to give much 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, the father of modern underwater archeology, and the recent discoveries in the bed of the Centa river and in the area of ​​Pontelungo by the Superintendency of Archaeological Heritage of Liguria.

The title of this exhibition dedicated to the Roman glasses of Albenga emphasizes the extraordinary, almost alchemical and therefore "magical" transformation process thanks to which an opaque and heavy material, such as silica, produces a pure and translucent product , almost incorporeal, as is glass. In fact, the experience of the glassmaker resembles in a certain sense that of the alchemist: in his workshop, similar to a mysterious laboratory, the glassmaker elaborates secret recipes, handed down from father to son, in a 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, in addition to providing new and valuable information on the topography of Albingaunum, whose site coincides with the historical center of the modern city, has brought to light a large number of exhibits, including those on display. The importance of these artifacts, which are located within a chronological range between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, is manifold.

Along with more common objects, there are glasses coming from the borders of the Empire, such as the Middle East or Egypt, often with rare or even unparalleled forms that, thanks to the association in the context of discovery with objects better known, it is possible date with certainty. The data obtained from them also provide important evaluation elements - 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 provides the inspiration for considerations never tried before, highlighting the liveliness of the Albingaunese seaport, where products, from those of mass consumption to luxury ones, came from the most diverse areas of the Mediterranean. Each of the vitreous 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 use context (canteen, kitchen, pantry, pharmacy, toilet, game, etc. .).

The dating and the scientific classification of each find are however guaranteed by explanatory panels accompanying each display 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 Museo dell'Arte Vetraria in Altare), the exhibit is exhibited: first the section dedicated to cosmetics and care of the glass body (balsamari, containers for ointments and perfumes, but also splendid jewels and tools for the toilet), therefore the area related to the kitchen and the banquet (plates, cups, glasses, bottles, jugs, cups, drawers, trays, amphorae, olle, gutti, casseroles, and even flute ...).

As an element of 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 for form and function, to emphasize how the glass fits into the ancient market as replacement of other products, of which it often reproduces the most common forms. The next stage concerns specifically 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 very active port and the busy one (for the time ... ) the road that led to the Gauls, the Julia Augusta on which, just outside the walls, the necropolis faced. Furthermore, two complete tomb outfits are presented with the relative photographic documentation of the archaeological excavation.

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 have been carved, dancing in honor of Bacchus. And of the god of wine and of the mystical delirium, as well as the licentious characters of his procession, they have the attributes and the characters these two children. The winged putto holds a musical instrument with six pipes, called a syringe, and a curved shepherd's stick (pedum); the other, on the other hand, tightens the thyrsus and carries a strange burden on his shoulders, a skin of feral skin that clearly refers to the nectar of the gods and intoxication. The master glassmaker, after casting in a mold, has grinded and polished the glass on both sides and then decorated it with carvings on the wheel and lathe, and finally completed the freehand work with precision engravings of which not 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 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 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 astonishment, both for its beauty, and because it dared to unhinge the sanctuary doors to which the archaeologists are most devoted: the one dedicated to chronology. The first glasses carved with figurative scenes were believed to date back to the beginning of the third century after Christ. Only a few glasses of a similar but very fragmentary invoice found in the royal palace in Begram, Afghanistan, had cast doubt on this certainty, but the fact that they had been excavated in the 1930s with antiquated and unreliable methods, downgraded this hypothesis to rank of supposition devoid of any scientific seal. The blue plate of Albenga, which was next to objects from a funerary outfit clearly dating back to the beginning of the second century after Christ, dates back more than a century to the introduction of the technique of carving to make figured scenes on glass. Certainty also supported by radiocarbon analysis on the ashes of the deceased and on coals of the wood used in the pyre, given that it was a so-called "direct cremation" tomb, as it required the corpse to be cremated at the burial site. Admiring the splendid objects on display it seems that almost two millennia have not passed. Then as today, glass was used to present and preserve food and drink, but also to contain or burn perfumes, to receive ointments, ointments and drugs, without forgetting its decorative and playful function: it took the form of "favor", of glass beads for necklaces and bracelets, not to mention the pawns of board games.

As the curator of the exhibition Bruno Massabò underlines, the uses of glass multiply "after the revolutionary invention of blowing, around the middle of the first century BC, and the consequent development of an industrial scale production, which makes this extraordinary material enters common use, supplanting ceramics and metal in many functions ". Before this moment, the particular complexity of his workmanship made it a luxury reserved only to the aristocracy, and initially exclusive prerogative of the royal canteens. In the first century, on the other hand, Trimalcione, the bizarre character of Petronius's "Satyricon", during his famous banquet, could have specified that "the glasses cost even little". Instead, the banquet scenes belong to the homonymous Fellini version, present in a suggestive garden recreated by the fitters, which lower the visitor into that atmosphere of Dionysian intoxication of which glass was an integral part.

And it is in such a context that a valuable object like the blue plate, from a mere food container, could become a means of ostentation, a "ante litteram" status symbol. The exhibition will not fail to arouse curiosity and wonder: the fascinating sound of glass rendered by a highly original music box, the background music of the glass armonium, for which the greatest composers have written works, the possibility of trying out specially created perfumes and balms on original Roman "recipes", in addition to the beauty of the display enriched with multimedia contents, they will involve the guest in a unique multi-sensorial experience.

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The museums of Albenga