This exhibition was on display from July 28, 2018 to October 27, 2019.

See all the exhibitions.

View and print exhibition labels.

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.

  • Bowl
  • glazed and lustered porcelain.
  • Gift of Mrs. Paul Moore.
  • 1960-164-4
  • Mihrab Tile (Iran)
  • glazed, modeled and lustered stonepaste with underglaze and underpaint....
  • Gift of Ephron Gallery.
  • 1958-72-1
  • Bowl (Iran)
  • glazed and lustered stonepaste.
  • Gift of Ephron Gallery.
  • 1958-72-5
  • Tile (Iran)
  • glazed and lustered stonepaste.
  • Gift of Ruth Friedman in memory of Harry G. Friedman.
  • 1966-3-4
  • Tile
  • glazed, lustered and painted stonepaste, 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....
  • Gift of Judy Francis Zankel.
  • 2013-55-6
  • Snuff Box (possibly Germany)
  • inlaid gold and mother-of-pearl, chased gilt-metal, enamel.
  • Gift of the Panwy Foundation, from the collection of Maria Wyman.
  • 1994-129-5
  • Knife (France)
  • engraved and gilded silver, carved mother-of-pearl.
  • Museum purchase from Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program,....
  • 1996-56-76
  • Fruit Knife (France), ca. 1890
  • engraved and gilded silver, carved mother-of-pearl.
  • Museum purchase from Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program,....
  • 1996-56-77
  • White Worm Brooch
  • gold, cloisonné enamel on silver, citrine, pearl.
  • Museum purchase from Decorative Arts Association Acquisition Fund.
  • 1991-60-1
  • Stick Pin (France)
  • fresh-water pearl, gold, enamel, diamonds.
  • Gift from the Thomas W. Evans Collection from University of Pennsylvania....
  • 1983-69-9
  • Bracelet
  • hand-wrought silver, abalone, pearl.
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eitel Groeschke in memory of Pauline and Frank Rebajes.
  • 1990-138-2
  • Ring
  • hand-wrought silver, abalone, pearl.
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eitel Groeschke in memory of Pauline and Frank Rebajes.
  • 1990-138-3
  • Bowl (Syria)
  • mold-pressed and tooled glass.
  • Gift of Mrs. Leo Wallerstein.
  • 1961-88-9
  • Jar
  • free-blown glass with trailed decoration.
  • Gift of Mrs. Leo Wallerstein.
  • 1961-88-7
  • Vase (USA)
  • mold-blown favrile glass.
  • Bequest of Joseph L. Morris.
  • 1966-55-4
  • Leaf Pitcher
  • earthenware, eosin glaze.
  • Museum purchase from Charles E. Sampson Memorial Fund.
  • 2007-3-1
  • Vase (USA)
  • molded, glazed, and lustered earthenware.
  • Gift of Marcia and William Goodman.
  • 1984-84-27
  • Vase (USA)
  • molded, glazed, and lustered earthenware.
  • Gift of Marcia and William Goodman.
  • 1984-84-26
  • Portrait Plaque
  • molded, glazed, and lustered earthenware.
  • Gift of Marcia and William Goodman.
  • 1984-84-28
  • Platter (England)
  • glazed and lustered earthenware.
  • Museum purchase through bequest of Dona Guimaraes.
  • 1992-124-1
  • Plate (Spain)
  • glazed and lustered earthenware.
  • Gift of Mrs. Laurent Oppenheim in memory of Laurent Oppenheim.
  • 1940-114-1-a
  • Vase (England)
  • glazed and lustered earthenware.
  • Museum purchase from Charles E. Sampson Memorial Fund.
  • 1995-3-1
  • Vase
  • glazed and lustered earthenware.
  • Gift of Caroline Rennolds Milbank.
  • 2017-23-1
  • Vase (USA)
  • blown, iridized, and tooled glass.
  • Museum purchase from Mary Blackwelder Memorial Fund.
  • 1977-56-1
  • Vase (USA)
  • glazed and lustered earthenware.
  • Gift of Marcia and William Goodman.
  • 1984-84-25
  • Service for Twelve
  • thrown luster-glazed earthenware.
  • Gift of Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio.
  • 1986-23-1/5