The bohemian glass of the 17th and 18th centuries: enamel fantasies Sculpture 31/01/2024

From the ancient and Islamic worlds of the Middle Ages to the Mediterranean Renaissance, the decoration of glass with coloured enamels had a strong incidence. The immense momentum of the Central European glassmaking tradition, particularly in Bohemia, also led to the very abundant creation of coloured pieces with this technique since the 16th century. However, it was between the 17th and 18th centuries when a huge development of the production of glass and glass of use and prestige of all kinds, placed the creation of the glassmakers and the powerful manufactures of that country as protagonists in Europe and in the known world. Not only that, but they also marked the tastes and fashions that many other countries would follow, particularly in more refined pieces and services. At the very high level of productions a great commercial structure was united, getting that technical and aesthetic culture spread everywhere.

The most varied types of jars and glasses.

Enamelled Bohemian glass produced two large blocks quite different. On the one hand, the most crystalline, sophisticated and executed specimens and the most perfect finishes. These often combined various techniques, such as carving, engraving, gold and enamel, and evidently proved to be the most expensive and intended for a more accommodated audience.

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Bohemian glass cup engraved and enamelled in grisaille, with red spiral inside the slab.
Probably Kronstadt, c. 1720-1730. Balclis auction in 2020.

On the other hand, a more popular and more resolutive type of pieces, made of blown glass, faster finish and with decorations of great charm, fresh and of great efficiency, but less detailed and luxurious. Of the latter type of objects is one of which we find more specimens in Spain. This indicates that they should be imported in abundance. They are usually glasses or jars, which were to be used in both cases to contain liquors. But beer jars, glasses and various pieces of use were also made. They were usually made in colorless glass, but there were also in white or blue opalino glass and occasionally in other colors.

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Bohemian enameled glass jars from the 18th century. One with plant decoration and the other with a harlequin.
The second retains its pewter stopper. To the right “tankard” (typical Central European jug with lid) also enameled and
with a pewter cover, but from the 17th century. The three will be auctioned in Balclis in the next auction in March 2024

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Bohemian enameled glass vase from the 18th century.
Sold at Balclis in the March 2021 in-person auction

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Bohemian enameled glass vase from the 18th century.
Sold at Balclis in the 2020 online auctions.


The colors used in the enameling of this type of garments were the primary and basic. Yellow, red, medium blue (neither sky blue nor intense cobalt), green, white are the most used. Black is applied for profiles that mark the drawing with schematic details. They show sharps, used directly, without gradations in tones, applied directly in pure state. Very occasionally white and red are mixed, varying slightly the shades.

Various and fanciful decorations

The figurative motifs are considerably schematic, with an almost comical air when there are figures. Animals, such as birds or dogs, among others, were easily and easily captured. The flasks sometimes carry a character on the main face, with both peasant and aristocratic clothing, which is usually depicted in some occupation. A similar effect offers the hearts and elements of plant derivation, which are even simpler and unfolded in very symmetrical schemes or diagonal branches, creating archetypes that would be very characteristic of these productions and that were tirelessly repeated. Doves on a heart were common and were a symbol of marriage union.

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Bohemian enameled glass vase with two doves on a heart from the 18th century.
Sold at Balclis auction house in the May 2022 in-person auction

The models of monarchical praise present the corresponding coats of arms of the kings of the time, with the necessary heraldic details, but also of rapid execution. The pieces dedicated to Charles III and Charles IV and the dedications (which were always written in blank) usually presented Germanic calligraphies and abundant misspellings of orthography or grammar. This showed that they were not pieces made in Spain, but were made to export and that those who copied the text were not familiar with the Spanish language.

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Bohemian enameled glass vase with greeting to Charles IV from the late 18th century.
Sold at Balclis in the May 2022 auction

The style used to be fresh and agile, of great vivacity and little detail, typical of an execution that was not academic, but professional and safe. We can say that the decorations were closer to the flat than to the porcelain or to the easel painting, always more sophisticated and aristocratic. These small objects have survived the passage of history, going from showcase to showcase or shelf on shelf, being testimonies of an artisanal work and an aesthetic that show the grace and quality of some pieces of use that have become charming emblematic objects. Due to its great diffusion throughout the European (and even American) geography, it has been thought that sometimes they could be glasses made in other latitudes, made by central European glazes/enamellers.

You can find all kinds of glass art both in our daily online auctions and in our face-to-face auctions.