Glass, Rock Crystal and Jade
Syria or Iran
8th-9th century CE
Materials and technique
Glass; free blown, applied, and impressed
Ø 22.5 cm
Glass vessels designed for everyday use did not normally include surface decoration; at most, they might receive handles or suspension loops, as in the present example. This bottle is particularly interesting; while it appears to exhibit a rather simple aesthetic, it provides a good example of the great difficulties involved with the attribution of early Islamic glass. The vessel has a globular shape with a narrow neck and lipped rim, with three loops applied at even intervals around the body, each impressed at the base with a circular medallion containing a three-line kufic inscription identifying the artist as Abu Ja'far. Vessel stamps with kufic inscriptions exist in other collections, such as the al-Sabah Collection in the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait (Carboni 2001, p. 282, cat. 3.49a-c); one, like the medallions on the present bottle, bears an inscription identifying “the work of” a different artist (ibid., cat. no. 3.49b). Stefano Carboni has attributed these stamps to the Syrian region in the eighth-ninth century. The globular shape of this bottle supports an early Islamic date and an attribution to the Syrian region, as examples of this shape can be found in late Roman glass produced in the eastern Mediterranean (coasts of modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt) before the Umayyad period (661-750 CE) (Carboni 2001, 15-16, 26-27, and 39-42). However, the practice of stamping vessels may have been a continuation of a Sasanian tradition in the Iranian lands. It is difficult to determine whether this bottle, which combines aspects of the two major pre-Islamic traditions in the Islamic lands with the most original feature of Islamic art - the Arabic script - was produced in Iran by an artist from the Syrian region; if an Iranian artist may have imitated a work exported to Iran from the Syrian or Mesopotamian region; or if it were made in Syria by an artist familiar with and interested in incorporating some elements of the Iranian artistic tradition into his work. Regardless of where, when, and by whom it was made, this bottle is of importance for its great condition and for the questions it continues to raise.
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