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Glass has many properties and, because of this, enjoys much symbolic importance. It results from the perfect alliance of the four so-called ‘pure’ elements: earth, fire, water and air. Our knowledge of the material was largely empirical prior to the advances made in the field of chemistry in the eighteenth century. The secret business of glassworks, which were initially situated deep in forests, and the glassmaker’s ability to transform matter through fusion, only added to the mystique.

Its apparent similarity to rock crystal, diamond and – in the case of coloured glass – various semi-precious stones conferred upon the material numerous protective properties. Glass was worn like a talisman to ward off evil spirits and accompanied the dead on their final voyage. Mirrors evoke the perception of self and protect, while a glass eye endeavours to imitate the living world. The finial stands erect like a standard as a sign of belonging, whereas the wedding cloche and the conscript’s cane lend theatricality to rites of passage. As technology progressed, ever more applications were found for glass and slowly but surely it became a common material in everyday objects.