Research: Goethean Observations: 18th Century Glass Bottle

Part 1

Observed glass bottle

A vessel, translucent, whose surface is revealed by distortions, reflections and engravings. There is an opening at the top about 2cm in diameter and here the thickness of the vessel can be seen as being about 5mm.

The base of the vessel is not round but oval with flattened sides. The base is solid and about 1cm thick within which one can see tiny imperfections where the light is gathered.

Light from bulbs above, inside the display cabinet, grows around the neck and shoulders of the vessel revealing a dimple in the surface on the right. From the base of the neck (which is itself about 2.5cm in height) the pattern of the engraving on the front of the bottle begins, comprising feather-like curlicues, dots, dashes and small fine strokes. They form a kind of border, within which the words Thos Brown, Nenthead, 1769 have been engraved.

The lettering of the name is somewhat irregular and not central, as if the engraver was expecting an ‘e’ at the end of Brown. There is a space after the ‘n’ into which part of the pattern of the border has extended and part of which has since been scratched or worn away.

On the sides are engravings of birds. That on the right can only be seen properly whilst looking through the front of the vessel. On the back the engraved figure of a man can be seen with a rifle, standing on a patch of ground next to a tree. Looking at the figure whilst bending down slightly, one can again see small imperfections in the surface of the glass.

Within the glass are colours, reflected from the fabric of the display stand behind; blues and golds as well as the dark grey of the glass ledge on which the vessel is standing. There’s also the reflected light of a dish on the shelf below.

Even without touching the bottle appears heavy.

Part 2

Looking at the glass and its ‘time-life’ I see the bright glow of its beginning – a molten bulb of glass. I can hear the noise of the place in which it was made, the heat and other ambient sounds. Who made it? What were they thinking at the time?

There is a real sense of movement at the beginning; an urgency - a far cry from the static object sitting in the display case before me. One gets a sense of the physical process of its creation, the heat and the sweat. The molten glass needs to be shaped, partly through being blown – and while it’s in this state, the glass blower blows, turning the glass and shaping it until the form is fixed. This object then becomes the preserved breath of its maker. Cold and fragile.

The glass cools and loses its glow and colour, taking its shape from the borrowed light and reflections of that which surrounds it. What has been seen over the centuries, reflected and distorted through its surface? The interior of the workshop? Thomas Brown’s house? Back then, the light of an ordinary day in 1769 would have lent the vessel its shape. Today, mainly the glow of the electric lights reveal its form to visitors.

Next the bottle would be engraved. A conversation takes place between the engraver and whoever commissioned  the engraving. Who was Thomas Brown? Is he the figure on the back of the glass? The engraver takes a note of the name. Did he make a mistake? Did he think it should be spelt Browne with an ‘e’. When would he have realised? Perhaps it’s not a mistake at all, just the way he did it.

The vessel would have been held in the engraver’s hand, its shape felt by him as he worked to write the letters. I can only guess at how it feels, through the engraver and the person who commissioned it, and finally the man himself. One can almost see his smile as he receives it. What was it commemorating? He would have felt its shape in his hands – the glass blower’s breath. He would have felt its temperature, its texture. What else did he feel at that moment? How did his clothes feel on his back? What did he see through the glass surface of the vessel? The floor? The faces of his friends? The walls and windows? The light of a day long since vanished like the glass blower, the engraver and Thomas Brown himself.

Part 3 & 4

The bottle is always borrowing from that by which it’s surrounded; gathering light in order to make itself visible.
It bends, distorts and refracts the present – gravity bending the light from a distant star.
Hot, molten, fluid becomes cold, fragile, solid.
Flesh becomes brittle.
The influence on the present day of a breath exhaled 250 years ago.
Exhale. Inhale.
A bubble.
An imperfection in the air, where time rather than light is gathered and held.
The past in the present.