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Ewer

  • Place of origin:

    Iran (west, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1220-1240 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Brass, hammered and welded; engraved decoration partly inlaid with silver and black composition

  • Museum number:

    381-1897

  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery, case 1W

This ewer has a complex, angular form and cheerful decoration in silver. The good wishes in Arabic on the shoulder are in a bizarre style of script in which each upright ends in a human face. The figures between are four musicians. Those on the sides represent the moon.

In Islamic art, objects made from base materials were often transformed by sophisticated forms of decoration. Brassware, such as this ewer, was decorated with inlaid surface ornament.

For larger motifs, metalworkers chiselled out small areas of brass and filled them with thin sheets of silver, gold and copper. They added details by chasing the surface of the softer metals and contrast by using a black filler.

The inlay technique first became popular in eastern Iran in the mid 12th century. It then spread westwards and by 1250 was in use across the Middle East. Its popularity declined after 1500.

Physical description

Ewer (aftabe). Brass, sheet, inlaid with silver. Now with a patina of dark olive brown turning black. Decorated with poetic and benedictory inscriptions, in several different types of script, groups of flying birds, musicians, and seated female figures holding up huge crescent moons. These are probably traditional Persian representations of the 'Planet' Moon. Western Iran, 13th century.

Place of Origin

Iran (west, made)

Date

ca. 1220-1240 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Brass, hammered and welded; engraved decoration partly inlaid with silver and black composition

Marks and inscriptions

Persian; Kufic; upper inscription at the base of the neck is "undeciphered".; engraved

Might and lasting life, thankfulness and praise, [helping] destiny and wealth victory over the enemy, integrity! A-L-A!
animated naskhi i.e with faces; main inscription on the shoulder

"undeciphered"
kufic; at the bottom between the shoulder and the sides.

Lasting might, immune life, growing success, ascending luck, helping destiny, wide authority, lucky star L!
naskhi; fifth inscription on the waisted foot

Khwaje Reyhan
name engraved on the underside

Dimensions

Height: 43.7 cm, Height: 40.2 cm up to pouring lip, Diameter: 20.5 cm circle enclosing faceted body at its widest, Diameter: 15.2 cm waisted foot

Object history note

Purchased on behalf of the South Kensington Museum (today the V&A) in 1897 from Edgar and Alice Whitaker, executors for the Istanbul estate of William Henry Wrench (1836-96), British Consul to Ottoman Turkey. During his diplomatic career, Wrench had assembled a private art collection of paintings, ceramics, metalwork, arms, textiles, carpets and other furnishings. These were well-known to curators at South Kensington: in 1892, the Museum purchased a set of four photographs, recording how Wrench had displayed the collection in his home in Pera, Istanbul.

Descriptive line

Brass ewer inlaid with silver, featuring 'animated' inscriptions and musician- and moon-figures, Iran, 1220-40.

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

Melikian-Chirvani, A.S. Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, London:HMSO, 1982, p169-173, ISBN 0 11 290252 9
Survey, pl.1327.
Robinson, B. 50 Masterpieces of Metalwork, London, 1951, no.43, pp 88-9; illustrated and dated to the 'early years of the thirteenth century'.
Scerrato, V. Metalli Islamici, Milan, 1966, pl.45, p104; caption p.102 as 'Ilkhanid period, 13th c'
Tim Stanley ed., with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004; pp. 34, 97, plate 39

Labels and date

EWER
Worked sheet brass, with engraved decoration and silver inlay
WESTERN PERSIA; 13th century
The inscriptions consist of conventional blessings, sometimes in abreviated or garbled form. The same owners name is found as on the candlestick shown close by, suggesting the two pieces were made in the same workshop. [Used until 10/2002]
Ewer with Musicians and Moons
Iran
1220-40

This later ewer is of a completely different type. It has a complex, angular form and cheerful decoration in silver. The good wishes in Arabic on the shoulder are in a bizarre style of script in which each upright ends in a human face. The figures between are four musicians, while those on the sides represent the moon.

Brass, inlaid with silver

Museum no. 381-1897 [Jameel Gallery]

Materials

Brass; Silver

Techniques

Hammered; Welded; Engraved; Inlaid

Categories

Islam; Containers; Metalwork

Collection

Middle East Section

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