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Alembics and Cucubitas:  A New Glass Vernacular

The provenance of this exhibition came about from researching aspects of glass science history; in particular, the discovery and production of gold ruby glass.

That was largely due to the endeavours of alchemists in Europe in the 17th century. Attendant to their efforts to unfurl the mysteries of the material world, the alchemists played an important part in refining our understanding of glassmaking science.  


Of course the al-chymists, as they were known, from their Egyptian and Islamic roots, are famous for searching for the secret of the transmutation of base metals into gold and silver, a process called chrysopoeia. That firstly required the creation of the Philosopher's Stone or Egg- a ruby coloured glass-like substance which had the power to effect the transmutation. The apparatus to perform the repeated distillation, sublimation and melting required to make this magical substance often involved glass vessels called  alembics, cucubitas, and aludels.


The creation of gold ruby glass, of which you can see examples in this exhibition, depended first on discovering how to dissolve gold using Aqua Regia (Royal Water). To that solution tin metal was added, which, when dissolved, produced Purple of Cassius - the key to introducing gold into the glass melt and having it "strike" ruby.

Today we stand on the shoulders of alchemic giants of 17th Century Europe, such as Kunckel, Glauber and Claff, amongst others, who helped make this discovery. But also, in the exhibition are pieces that show that discoveries have not come to an end. An example is an alembic coloured using silver to make a ruby, a recipe that was discovered as recently as the 1940's. As for gold rubies, we now give thanks to the moon goddess Selene for "striking" gold ruby.


All the colours of the fantasy vessels exhibited here are made by Gaffer Glass, a company founded by John Croucher and John Leggott in Auckland 25 years ago. Gaffer Glass has grown over that time to become a premium source of glass colours for glass artists around the world.


The masterful execution and additional creative input realising the forms is the work of Luke Jacomb, John Croucher's son, who was ably assisted by Matt Hall, Mike McGregor and Kate Mitchell.


At a time in history when we have become rather blasé about science, our hope is that these works arouse a child-like wonder of other-worldly distillations of precious fluids, essences and elixirs from another time and place.

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