This exhibition started on July 28, 2018 and is on display until March 24, 2019.

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The term iridescence derives from Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, and refers to a vibrant optical effect of rainbow-like colors that change in the light. Found on pearls, bird feathers, and insect wings, iridescence draws from and celebrates the natural world’s multidimensional colors and organic forms. Since the Middle Ages, designers have experimented with ways to achieve an iridescent effect on the surface of glass and ceramics and incorporate naturally iridescent materials such as mother of pearl into their jewelry and metalwork. Featuring objects from the museum’s collection, this exhibition demonstrates how iridescence has maintained a lasting impact on design.
Requiring the color sense of an artist and the technical skills of a chemist to execute, the technique of iridescence connects objects across time periods and geographies. Ancient glass appears iridescent as a result of chemical decomposition from years buried underground, an effect admired and imitated by Louis Comfort Tiffany and others working in the art nouveau and arts and crafts styles at the turn of the 20th century. At the same time, the ceramicists Clément Massier in France and William de Morgan in Britain both looked to medieval Spanish ceramics glazed with metallic oxides for inspiration in their own work. Efforts to produce radiant light effects in glass and ceramics continue up to the present. Designers experiment with adding unexpected materials to formulate metallic glazes and bright surface treatments to catch the eye.

  • Tile (Iran), 13th century
  • luster-glazed and painted earthenware.
  • Gift of Ruth Friedman in memory of Harry G. Friedman.
  • 1966-3-4
  • Tile, 1301–50
  • luster-glazed and painted earthenware, rolled and pierced silver (later mount).
  • Gift of Ruth Friedman in memory of Harry G. Friedman.
  • 1966-3-5-a/c
  • Pendant (England)
  • cut, cast and hammered silver with basse-taille enamel, set with....
  • 2013-55-6
  • Knife (France), ca. 1890
  • silver, mother-of-pearl, gilding.
  • Museum purchase from Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program,....
  • 1996-56-76
  • Fruit Knife (France), ca. 1890
  • silver, mother-of-pearl, gilding.
  • Museum purchase from Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program,....
  • 1996-56-77
  • White Worm Brooch, 1991
  • gold, cloisonné enamel on silver, citrine, pearl.
  • Museum purchase from Decorative Arts Association Acquisition Fund.
  • 1991-60-1
  • Stick Pin (France), ca. 1867
  • gold pavé-set with diamonds, enamel, fresh-water pearl.
  • Gift from the Thomas W. Evans Collection from University of Pennsylvania....
  • 1983-69-9
  • Bracelet, ca. 1960
  • silver, mother-of-pearl, pearl.
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eitel Groeschke in memory of Pauline and Frank Rebajes.
  • 1990-138-2
  • Ring, ca. 1960
  • silver, mother-of-pearl, pearl.
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eitel Groeschke in memory of Pauline and Frank Rebajes.
  • 1990-138-3
  • Leaf Pitcher, ca. 1901
  • pressed and hand-shaped, high-fired eosin-glazed fine white earthenware.
  • Museum purchase from Charles E. Sampson Memorial Fund.
  • 2007-3-1
  • Vase (England), 1891
  • glazed earthenware.
  • Museum purchase from Charles E. Sampson Memorial Fund.
  • 1995-3-1
  • Vase, 1909
  • glazed earthenware.
  • Gift of Caroline Rennolds Milbank.
  • 2017-23-1
  • This object is no longer on display as part of this exhibition.