YOU SAY CHRYZOPRAS, I SAY CHRYSOPHRASE – LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF
There’s very little which captures my imagination as much as a new and peculiar word, and today’s item very much hits the mark in this respect.
It’s a Czech or Bohemian vase from the mid 20th century – so not exactly ancient – of modest form and size and made in the style of the slightly earlier Monart works of Salvador Ysart (which were produced in Scotland, at Perth). It’s the gradation in colour, the marble-like pattern and the inclusions which dictate that this generic term should be used, but what’s more interesting is that it harks back to a much earlier name of less obvious origins – that of ‘chrysophase’.
The roots of this curious term lay in Bohemian minerology (of course!) and its derivation from the name chryzopras. This is the indigenous term for chalcedony, a predominantly apple-green gemstone, mined across the region in significant quantities since the 14th century and used by the Czech King Karal IV to decorate his favourite chapels. It had earlier been used by the Greeks and Romans (being polished in to beads and set-in rings and pendants, much like other gemstones), and when glass production reached the stage whereby attempts were made to replicate such precious materials, it was one of those which the vitreous technicians of the 19th century sought to recreate.
Appropriately enough, it was a Czech concern who led the development of chryzopras imitation, with a long-established manufactory known as Graflich Harrach’sche Glasfabrik (better known as Harrachov Glass in later years) having the most success. It is believed that they used a base of uranium glass to produce the signature yellow/green colouration, adding alabaster to manage the translucence and opalescence of the material, and that they first managed to achieve worthwhile results in the mid 1820’s.
The craftsmen of the Baccarat Crystal company turned out glassware in the 1840’s under the Gallicised version of the Czech name – chrysoprase – but their pieces were much whole- coloured and ‘cleaner’ than the Harrachov material, completely lacking both the marble-effect colouration and the inclusions and having an appearance much more redolent of jade rather than the mineral, the name of which they had somewhat misappropriated.