Glass, Rock Crystal and Jade
10th-11th century CE
Materials and technique
Glass; free-blown and cut; bronze hinges and clasp
Length 11.3 cm
The technique of cut glass in the Islamic world became best known in the ninth and tenth centuries, appearing in a variety of forms, including relief patterns created from wheels made of stone, metal, or wood, and drills for incision made of stone or diamond points (Carboni 2001, p. 71). This rectangular box, revealing some polychrome iridescence, consists of two parts joined together, both free-blown and wheel-cut; the top includes a design of two circles containing lozenge motifs and the bottom includes one of two kite-shaped motifs. The bronze hinges and clasp each end in a pair of rams’ horns. The wheel-cutting technique predates the Islamic period as it was used widely by the Romans and the Sasanians. Around the fourth or fifth century, the practice appears to have declined throughout the Mediterranean; it then resurfaced in the eighth and ninth centuries in the eastern Islamic world, particularly in Iran and Iraq (Carboni and Whitehouse 2001, p. 155). While the technique is associated more closely with the eastern Islamic lands, the form of this object is reminiscent of caskets produced in Islamic Spain and Sicily (see, for example, Dodds 1992, p. 192 [no. 2]; or von Folsach 2001, p. 255 [no. 407]). A taste for the Middle East had already existed since the earliest Umayyads of Spain experienced nostalgia for their homeland in Syria and the eastern Mediterranean region, which had been lost to the Abbasids who overthrew them. However, it is possible that the arrival of a certain Ziryab - a freedman of the Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi (r. 775–785 CE) who is credited with introducing Abbasid court traditions of music, dress, food, and proper etiquette to the Umayyads of Spain (Dodds 1992, p. 42) - may also have inspired the transmission of artistic tastes and techniques that spread throughout the rest of the western Islamic world.
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