Ugly Object of the Month — May 2017

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Are you ready for swimsuit season? No? Me neither, which is just as well, because it’s SHARK MONTH at the Kelsey. This is one of the all-time cutest, weirdest, made by the most amazingly skilled craftsperson Ugly Objects ever: a mosaic glass fish head.


Glass mosaic fish head inlay fragment. 1st century BC–1st century AD. Egypt. Gift of Alexander G. Ruthven. KM 1965.3.135.

What do we know about this tiny bit of a scary-looking fish? Not much, because it’s got zero excavation provenance. One, I do know that whoever made it had enviable motor control. Mosaic glass is made of small pieces of colored glass rods, or “canes,” which have been sliced up, placed close together, and then fused with heat. Two, inlays like this one would have decorated Roman Egyptian walls or furniture.

Three, former U-M graduate student Lindsay Ambridge wrote an article about this object, in which she discusses the meanings of fish in ancient Egypt. Bottom line: fish were important for many reasons, chief of which was as a food source.

To me, this fish looks more like predator than prey — check out the pink gums and very, very pointy teeth. See it in all its splendor in the Upjohn Exhibit Wing — look in the glass case on the south side of the back hall.