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Flask

  • Place of origin:

    Aleppo (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1200-1400 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Unglazed earthenware, moulded in relief

  • Museum number:

    761-1902

  • Gallery location:

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

This large flask with a damaged lip was reportedly found in a well in Aleppo in Syria. The Arabic inscription gives wishes for the health and well-being of the drinker.

The porous body of unglazed earthenware allowed water to evaporate through the sides, keeping the contents cool. This practical advantage meant that unglazed water vessels like this were common throughout the Middle East in both the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. Most examples were plain. Some, like this one, were moulded with patterns and inscriptions. Here the circular decoration echoes the shape of the body of the flask.

Physical description

Water jug of unglazed buff-coloured earthenware, moulded in relief and decorated on each side with Arabic inscription in Naskh. Circular body with two flat sides, short neck and two loop handles. Each side is moulded with three concentric bands surrounding a rosette; the innermost contains the inscription, and the others are filled in with lattice work enclosing disks.

Place of Origin

Aleppo (possibly, made)

Date

1200-1400 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Unglazed earthenware, moulded in relief

Marks and inscriptions

"Drink a thousand healths and well-beings. Made by Al-'Afif" (L.A. Mayer, 1924).
Arabic; Naskh; sides of vessel; moulded

Dimensions

Height: 26 cm, Width: 19 cm, Depth: 11.5 cm

Object history note

Said to have been found in a well at Aleppo.

Historical context note

This vessel is of a type of which there are other examples in earthenware but also in glass and metalwork and probably deriving from a leather prototype. The flask is unglazed to allow the water which it would have contained to evaporate slowly through the porous body, thus keeping the water cool. Such containers were used by pilgrims and formed part of essential military gear and were used on long treks through arid areas. Many of those used by the military contain the the owner's blazon, and the rosette decoration on either side of this flask is frequently associated with the house of Sultan Qalawun, though it may simply be decorative. The inscription is typical of those found on Mamluk objects in wishing good health on its owner. The mention of the maker, Al-'Afif, however, is unusual and also appears on four fragmentary flasks found in Hama, Syria and one intact flask in the British Museum.

Descriptive line

Moulded earthenware water flask, Syria (perhaps Aleppo), 1200-1400.

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

Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam. Art of the Mamluks. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., 1981, compare nos. 96,97.
Lane, Arthur. Early Islamic Pottery. London: Faber and Faber, 1947. 52p., ill. Page 28, plate 37A

Labels and date

Water Flask
Syria, perhaps Aleppo, 1200-1400
Moulded earthenware
Museum no. 761-1902 [Jameel Gallery]

Production Note

Said to have been found in a well at Aleppo.

Materials

Earthenware

Techniques

Moulded; Fired

Subjects depicted

Rosettes

Categories

Ceramics; Islam; Containers; Drinking

Collection

Middle East Section

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