Height: 16.500 cm (with modern metal
Diameter: 13.200 cm
Purchased with the assistance of the
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
The Lycurgus Cup
Late Roman, 4th century
Probably made in Rome
A dichroic glass cup with a mythological scene
This extraordinary cup is the only complete example of a very special type of glass, known as dichroic, which changes colour when held up to the light. The opaque green cup turns to a glowing translucent red when light is shone through it. The glass contains tiny amounts of colloidal gold and silver, which give it these unusual optical properties.
The cup is also the only figural example of a type of vessel known as a 'cage-cup'. The cup was made by blowing or casting a thick glass blank. This was then cut and ground away until the figures were left in high relief. Sections of the figures are almost standing free and connected only by 'bridges' to the surface of the vessel.
The scene on the
cup depicts an episode from the myth of Lycurgus, a king of the
Thracians (around 800 BC). A man of violent temper, he attacked
H. Tait (ed.), Five thousand years of glass (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)
D. Harden (ed.), Glass of the Caesars, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)