Rock crystal sphere, "The Empress Dowager". The origins of the Penn Museum's crystal sphere, both the location where the crystal was mined, and the place where the sphere was polished, are unknown. It was purchased in 1927 from the Fine Arts department of the Wanamaker's department store, Philadelphia, and given as a gift to the Penn Museum. It came with the story that it had once belonged to the Empress Dowager Cixi (1836-1908) of China, and was named after her. However no evidence has ever come to light that supports this, or any other account of the sphere's origins. The stand in the shape of a wave was made in Japan, but may have been made to order after the sphere was produced.
It is the third largest crystal sphere in the world, with a diameter of 25.4 cm, and weighing 49 lbs. Only the spheres in the Smithsonian (32.7 cm) and the Crow Collection in Dallas (28.9 cm) are larger. The fourth-largest sphere (22 cm) is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The sphere is not made of glass, but rather from a naturally-occurring crystal of pure quartz, and was shaped into a sphere through years of constant turning in a semi-cylindrical container filled with abrasive powders and water.
Purchased from Wanamaker's Department Store; subscription of Eldridge R. Johnson
Current & Past Exhibitions:
Chinese Rotunda (1968)
Chinese Halls (1941 - 1966)
In A Rush? Take a Quick Tour of The Museum ( Sep 1996 - Jun 1997)
[Article] Fernald, H. E. 1928. The George Byron Gordon Memorial Collection of Chinese Objects in Jade, Crystal, Lapis Lazuli and Coral. The Museum Journal. Volume XIX (No. 1): 35-71. : Page/Fig./Plate: Pg. 41
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