14th century CE
Materials and technique
Brass, cast, hammered, and engraved with niello
Height 14.5 cm; Ø 10 cm
This small brass jug or goblet is made of a compressed globular body, octagonal flared neck, and a hexagonal faceted foot. Two bands of Arabic inscriptions in naskh script border a series of palmette motifs around the neck, while the body displays a diagonal fluted mould with alternating bands decorated with spiral and split-palmette ornamentation. Vegetal design also embellishes each facet on the foot, the base of which contains a six-pointed interlacing star recalling the Seal of Solomon. The base is incised with the artist’s name, Yahya ibn Yusuf. A blank inverted teardrop form has been engraved on opposite sides of the neck, perhaps meant to decorate the points of attachment for a handles that may never have been applied. The ewer was previously attributed to Nasrid Spain in the fourteenth century based on the calligraphic style of the inscription as well as on the form of the half-palmette motif used to decorate its surface (Geneva 1985, p. 284). However, extant Nasrid metalwork is rare, and no comparable objects are known to exist that would confidently support this attribution. It appears the jug shares more features in common with Greater Iranian metalwork from the mediaeval period, most strikingly in terms of its form; yet even here, it is difficult to locate any close parallels. From at least the eleventh century, Iranian metal wares reflect a composite form that continued to be refined in the centuries that followed; decoration seems to have gradually evolved from sparse to denser epigraphic and ornamental programmes in mediaeval and pre-modern times. A partially gilt and nielloed silver jug in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, exhibits a relative overall proportion similar to the this ewer, including a wide, flaring neck, but does not share its angular and fluted characteristics; this work has been attributed to Iran in the twelfth century (Atıl, Chase, and Jett 1985, p. 85, fig. 32). Fluted and faceted bodies were also not unusual in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the Greater Iranian (especially northwestern Iran and including modern Iraq) and Syrian regions (Baer 1983, p. 291). They appear in metal ewers (Atıl, Chase, and Jett 1985, pp. 120-121, figs. 46 & 49 [with a faceted foot]), and certainly in thirteenth-century Iranian candlestick bases (ibid., p. 113, figs. 42-44; and von Folsach, p. 319, no. 509). Elements of the surface decoration can also be found in the decorative programme of certain wares from northeastern Iran in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, where a couple bands of inscription appear on the neck and shoulder region, and medallions or repeated floral or vegetal motifs are engraved around different parts of the body, with some nielloed background but most left blank (see, for example, a jug in the Muzim-i Rawza, Ghazni, Afghanistan, in Melikian-Chirvani 1982, p. 65, no. 2). While most of the features present in this jug appear in mediaeval Iranian metalwork, the combination of features that are individually but never collectively found in works of different periods and regions challenges a secure attribution of place and time. More research must be conducted on the identity of this object’s maker, as results might yield information about the cultural context in which this very interesting work, once in the collection of Jean-Paul Croisier in Geneva, was made.
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