During the 1st century BC-1st century AD in Ptolemaic Egypt there were created extraordinary canes of glass that contained within (running their length) highly detailed figurative imagery in the manner of the murrine (millifiore) canes made today. Among this type of figurative mosaic glass cane work were half-images, which, when two slices were removed from a single cane and laid side by side, formed the representation of what are thought to be grotesque masks used by the actors of ancient Greek and Roman theater. Contemporary with these intricate canes, there were also produced beads with applied face cane slices. More elementary in design and execution than the mask representations, these faces were equally rare and unique.


With the development of glassblowing, the fall of the Roman Empire and the passage of years, the time consuming, labor intensive techniques used to create these tiny masterpieces were lost.

Although in the Renaissance era, some 1500 years later, chevron-patterned cane began to be produced at the furnace, it was not until the nineteenth century that figurative facial imagery reappeared in glass cane. Working within the Venetian tradition, a lampworker, Giacomo Franchini, produced a series of amazingly realistic mosaic glass portraits at the torch. At the young age of 33, Franchini entered a mental institution and the complex techniques that he employed in the execution of his work generally remain a mystery.


Now, some 2000 years after the creation of the magnificent Ptolemaic canes, Dinah Hulet is among a small group of contemporary glass artists who are again creating cane work of this type and intricacy. Her earliest work with figurative portrait cane was of simplistic and stylized imagery much like those used on the ancient beads. Later she made a series of "half-face" canes in the style of the Egyptian theater masks and additionally used this same "half-face" technique for a set of insect canes.


In 1996, she created her first true portrait cane (in the Franchini style) as a commissioned piece. Her newest work takes the ancient technique and pushes it forward into a new dimension. She is now deconstructing facial imagery - breaking it into a series of component canes. She then assembles individual slices of each of these canes into a mosaic presentation, thus reversing aspects of the construction techniques of the ancient glass workers.


Image: Plaque with Actor's Mask. possibly Egypt, Alexandria, 25 BC-75 AD. Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY. 66.1.78.