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  • Place of origin:

    Egypt (made)
    Cairo (probably, made)

  • Date:

    975 to 1050 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Rock crystal

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the assistance of Messrs Henry Oppenheimer, Oscar Raphael and John Hugh Smith

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery, case 2E

High-quality rock crystal vessels were made for the rulers of Cairo during the Fatimid period (969–1171). This is confirmed by inscriptions on several of them, which name specific rulers. Great skill was required to hollow out the raw rock crystal without breaking it and to carve the delicate, often very shallow, decoration. These vessels were therefore probably prestigious items that the ruler would have displayed in his own treasury of prized possessions.

Small rock crystals like this bottle could not have held much, but their contents must have been very precious indeed to deserve such containers. They were most probably used for storing perfumes, which were among the most luxurious items of any Islamic court. They often survive in cathedral treasuries, where they were rededicated after being captured from their original Islamic settings.

Physical description

This bottle is tubular in shape, narrowing at the neck and foot. A broad band of palmette scrolls fills the centre, and above and below it are plain mouldings, at the shoulder and foot. The mouth is chipped half-way round, and the missing foot has been replaced by a base of metal covered by ceramic. Looking through the mouth hole, one can see at the base the mark of the drill which was used to hollow out the central hole.

Place of Origin

Egypt (made)
Cairo (probably, made)


975 to 1050 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Rock crystal


Height: 14.8 cm with base, Diameter: 3.1 cm reconstructed base, Weight: 200 g whole Weighed in Sculpture Conservation (includes fixed brass foot)

Object history note

Formerly in the collection of Sir Hercules Read. Bought with A.46-1928 for £450,at Sotheby's sale, 7 November 1928 (Lot 413). Purchased with the help of contributions from Messrs. Henry Oppenheim, Oscar Raphael and John Hugh Smith.

Case numbering changed from 1 to 48 to be consistent with Ceramics Dept 30/4/97

Descriptive line

Rock crystal bottle, Egypt (probably Cairo), 975-1050.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Contadini, Anna, Fatimid Art at the Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1998. p.37, plate 4
Europa und der Orient 800-1900 Exhibition catalogue (Berlin, 1989), cat.no.635 4/5
Trésors Fatimides du Caire. Exhibition held at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris. Cat.no.89.
Lamm, Mittelalterliche Gläser und Steinschnittarbeiten aus dem Nahen Osten (Berlin, 1930), vol.1, p.205; vol.2, Tafel 7: 6,7

Labels and date

Jameel Gallery

Rock Crystal Containers
Egypt, probably Cairo

Many rock crystal objects were small containers for precious substances such as perfumes. Some are cylindrical. Others have a flattened, egg-shaped form, which would have been completed by mounts of other costly materials, now missing. The stylised plant designs were inspired by earlier work done in Iraq under the Abbasid dynasty, probably at Basra.

Carved rock crystal

Museum nos. A.45-1928, Purchased with the assistance of Messrs Henry Oppenheimer, Oscar Raphael and John Hugh Smith; 1163-1864 [Jameel Gallery]


Quartz crystal




Islam; Black History; Containers; Africa


Middle East Section

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