Bohemia, a part of the Czech Republic (formerly part of Czechoslovakia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, originally part of the Czech kingdom of Bohemia), became famous for its beautiful and colorful glass during the Renaissance. The glass history of Bohemian began with the abundant natural resources found in the countryside.
Bohemian glass-workers discovered potash combined with chalk and created a clear colorless glass that was more stable than Italian glass. In the 16th century the term Bohemian glass emerged for the first time in history to distinguish its qualities from the glass coming from other places. This glass does not contain lead as is commonly suspected. This Czech glass could be cut with a wheel. Resources such as wood for firing the kilns were used to cook the ovens and burn the ashes to create the potash. There were also large amounts of limestone and silica.
In the 17th century, Caspar Lehmann, gem cutter for Emperor Rodolfo II in Prague, adapted the technique of engraving gems with copper and bronze wheels for glass. During that time, the Czech lands became the main producer of decorative glass articles and the local manufacture of glass gained high international reputation in the Baroque style from 1685 to 1750. Bohemian glass was becoming a success.
Certainly Czech glassware became as prestigious as jewelry and was coveted by the rich and the aristocracy of the time. As a result Czech crystal chandeliers could be found in the palaces of French King Louis XV, Empress Maria Teresa of Austria and Isabel of Russia.
Bohemia turned out expert craftsmen who artfully worked with crystal. Bohemian glass became famous for its excellent cut and engraving. Therefore they became skilled teachers of glass-making in neighbouring and distant countries. By the midle os the 19th century, a technical glass-making school system was created that encouraged traditional and innovative techniques as well as thorough technical preparation.
In the second half of the 19th century, Bohemian glass in general and especially colored glass produced in series was exported all over the world. Certainly many pairs of vases were produced either in a single color of opaque glass or in two-color coated glass. These were densely decorated with enameled flowers that were painted with great speed. Others were decorated with colored lithographs copied from famous paintings. These glass objects were made in huge quantities in large factories and were available by mail order throughout Europe and America. Many of them were not fine art, but provide low-cost decorative objects necessary to illuminate common homes. Reverse glass painting was also a Czech specialty. The image is carefully painted by hand on the back of a pane of glass, using a variety of techniques and materials, after which the painting is mounted in a bevelled wooden frame.
Bohemia maintained the primacy in the decoration carved to the wheel thanks to artisans like Dominik Biemann, and also practiced other techniques, such as cased glass, which were copied by European and American factories. The chemical advances facilitated the development of new opaque colored glass similar to semiprecious stones. Pieces with paint applications and transparent enamels were decorated as an analogy to the revival of Gothic stained glass.
The artisanal glass remained at a high level, even with the arrival of the Communists because it was considered ideologically harmless and helped to promote the good name of the country. Czech designers and glass manufacturers enjoyed international recognition and Czech glassware including works of art such as sculptures were shown and rewarded in numerous international exhibitions, especially at Expo 58 Universal Exhibition in Brussels and at Expo 67 in Montreal.
Currently, Czech crystal chandeliers hang, for example, in Milan’s La Scala, in Rome’s Opera Theater, in Versailles, in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg or in the royal palace in Riyadh. Various types of glassware, glass art, ornaments, figures, jewelry, beads and many others are also still highly valued internationally.