A Short History of Pate de Verre

Pate de verre, the name bestowed by the French in the late 19th century and by which we know the technique today, is one of the oldest known forms of glass working.  Ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform texts dating back to the early 2nd millennium BCE describe their methods of working glass. Glass was treated as a special material, and valued accordingly, as inlays in jewelry and sculpture and other art objects.  Because of the time and techniques involved in kiln casting; ie model making, mold making, preparing the glass, filling the mold, kiln firing, and cleaning and polishing; kiln cast glass was prized. One Egyptian name for it is 'Stone that Flows'.

While the Mesopotamians are the earliest known culture to have developed glass forming techniques, Egyptians quickly added to the body of knowledge. These techniques first flowered around 1500 - 1000 BCE.  Intricate mosaic style vessel forms dating as far back as 1500 BCE have been discovered. These arts went into decline only to be revived in the 9th century BCE by Egyptian and Assyrian glass artists. In the 4th and 5th centuries, the Persians produced exquisite glass vessels made by the same lost wax method that was used for their gold and silver work.  Like most art, glass was for the elite. Casting became increasingly sophisticated and the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE saw the production of some magnificent glass by the small independent glass shops throughout the Middle East. With the introduction of glass blowing by the Romans at the beginning of the Common Era, however, glass objects quickly became available to the common people and the number of small glass studios declined as kiln cast techniques were supplanted by glass blowing.

The kiln cast glass arts languished until their renaissance in the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe.  This revival was centered in France and was influenced by the archeological discoveries of the time. The kiln cast glass techniques were intriguing to French artists like Henri Cros, Argy-Rousseau, Amalric Walter, and Frederick Carder of the United States who were interested in the beauty of glass as a material. The Industrial Revolution supplied better technology for the casting and finishing techniques. With the onset of WW1, however, these glass arts once again faded away. 

Modern glass arts are founded in the Studio movement started in the last half of the 20th century. The technology for building and maintaining small glass blowing and kiln firing studios spread which has allowed the glass arts to be explored once again in a fashion not enjoyed since before the Common Era. Because the pate de verre technique is still very labor intensive, involving all the steps addressed above from model making to polishing, it is still a rarity in the world of glass art and valued accordingly.