ISLAMIC GLASS

ISLAMIC GLASS


Islamic glass

The Muslim world has produced wonderful pieces of glass that among other things have had a great influence on Venetian glass. Islamic glass includes hand-painted, relief-cut, engraved and mosaic pieces. Some of the most extraordinary works are imbedded with jewels. Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “At the time of the Arab conquest in the seventh century A.D., glassmaking had flourished in Egypt and western Asia for more than two millennia and glassmakers in those regions went about their business despite the momentous political, social, and religious changes taking place around them. Glassmakers inherited many of the techniques of their forebears in the Byzantine and Sasanian empires, including glassblowing, the use of molds, the manipulation of molten glass with tools, and the decorative application of molten glass. Islamic glass production from the seventh through the fourteenth century was also greatly innovative and witnessed glorious phases—such as those of superb relief-cut glass and spectacular gilded and enameled objects—that established its supremacy in glassmaking manufacture throughout the world. [Source:Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“While many of the objects may not have been made under a ruler's patronage, they certainly are "fit for a sultan." Islamic glass can be better studied according to the techniques of its manipulation—from undecorated blown vessels to mosaic glass to mold-blown, hot-worked, cut and engraved, and painted objects, though vessels produced after the seventeenth century and greatly influenced by the European trade may be studied in a proper historical context.\^/

“In the field of Islamic art, glass is a craft that often rose to excellence but has been largely overlooked by art historians. Thousands of anonymous glassmakers, from Cairo to Delhi, proudly transmitted their knowledge from one generation to the next, experimenting with the colors, shapes, techniques, and surface decoration of this extraordinarily versatile material. Their most outstanding results, from public and private collections worldwide, encourage a widespread appreciation of the artistic forms of Islamic glass—a fitting legacy for this ancient craft.\^/

“Scientific excavations are extremely valuable for a better understanding of the history, art, architecture, urban planning, and everyday life of a specific site. In terms of material culture, glass objects and fragments are second in quantity only to pottery at most Islamic sites, offering a wide variety of shapes, colors, and decoration for analysis. There are, however, a number of problems related to the study of excavated Islamic glass. Only in exceptional cases do glass objects bear informative inscriptions providing names and dates. Both as luxury goods that were traded and exchanged and as simple containers for oils, perfumes, and liquids of all kinds, Islamic glass circulated throughout the Islamic world and as far as southeastern Asia, northern China, and Europe. Glass was also shipped in large quantities as cullet (glass lumps and discarded broken vessels), suitable for remelting and making new glass inexpensively. Thus, the glass of a bottle created in Egypt, for example, may have been recycled as far as Central Asia; a new object may have been made that had a chemical composition usually attributed to Egyptian vessels but a shape and decoration that suggested a different origin. While it clearly is problematic for scholars to determine their place or date of production, excavated objects may be of great help in better understanding the chronology and origin of Islamic glass. The three most prolific excavated sites that have yielded glass in the Islamic world are Fustat (Old Cairo) in Egypt, Samarra’ in Iraq, and Nishapur in northeastern Iran.


Qajar glass jewel box

Books: Allan, James, ed. Islamic Art in the Ashmolean Museum. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press; : , 1995. For marvered glass, see pp. 1–30, 31–50; Carboni, Stefano. "Zudjadj." In Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 11, pp. 552–54. New ed. Leiden: Brill, 960–; Carboni, Stefano. "Undecorated Glass." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 139–61. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano. Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 163–95, 261–89, 291–321. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano. "Glass with Cut Decoration." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 71–137. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano. "Glass Production in the Fatimid Lands and Beyond." In L'Égypte fatimide, son art et son histoire, edited by Marianne Barrucand, pp. 169–77. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1999; Carboni, Stefano. "Stained ('Luster-Painted') Glass." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 51–69. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano. "The Great Era of Enamelled and Gilded Glass." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 323–69. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002; Charleston, Robert J. Masterpieces of Glass: A World History from the Corning Museum of Glass. Expanded ed. New York: Abrams, 1990; Gudenrath, William. "Techniques of Glassmaking and Decoration." In Five Thousand Years of Glass, edited by Hugh Tait, pp. 213–41. London: British Museum Press, 1991; Oliver, Prudence. "Islamic Relief-Cut Glass: A Suggested Chronology." Journal of Glass Studies 3 (1961), pp. 9–29; Stern, E. Marianne, and Birgit Schlick-Nolte. Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 B.C.–A.D. 50. Ostfildern: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994; Ward, Rachel, ed. Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East. London: British Museum, 1998; Whitehouse, David. "The Corning Ewer: A Masterpiece of Islamic Cameo Glass." Journal of Glass Studies 35 (1993), pp. 48–56.\^/

Websites and Resources: Islamic Art, Architecture and Images: Islamic Art And Architecture spmarchitecture.com ; British Museum britishmuseum.org Islamic Art Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah/hd/orna ; Islamic Art Louvre Louvre ; Museum without Frontiers museumwnf.org ; Architecture of Islam ne.jp/asahi/arc ; Images of mosques all over the world, from the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT dome.mit.edu ; Wikipedia article on Islamic architecture Wikipedia ; Islamic Finder islamicfinder.org/gallery/index ; Islamology Picture gallery islamology.com/gallery ; Islamic Images nooremadinah.net/IslamicImages/IslamicImages ; Islamic Images islamicacademy.org ; Qur’an Images WikiIslam wikiislam.net/wiki/Images:Quran ; Muslim Women zawaj.com/gallery-muslim-women-around-the-world-in-ramadan ; Wikipedia article on Islamic Art Wikipedia ; Calligraphy Islamic calligraphyislamic.com ; Islamic Art Art History Resources witcombe.sbc.edu

Islamic Glassmaking and Glass Blowing

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Since the invention of glassblowing in the first century B.C., glassmakers have been using the same tools to model, manipulate, and decorate molten glass. Two molds from the medieval Islamic world are the only ones to survive, but the basic technology of nonindustrial glassmaking and the tools employed have not changed. [Source:Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org\^/]

“The invention of glassblowing in the Syro-Palestinian region created a remarkable change in the use and availability of glass objects. Previously, from the third millennium B.C., glass objects had been made using other techniques, such as casting in a mold or forming glass around a removable core. These methods were slow and labor-intensive; consequently, glass was made in relatively small quantities and was not widely available. Glassblowing—in which molten glass is gathered on the end of a blowpipe and a vessel is formed by inflation and manipulation with tools—enabled craftsmen to create vessels quickly and in a wide range of shapes, making glassware affordable and available. \^/


mosque lamp from 1534

“The blowpipe is an iron or steel tube, usually about five feet long, for blowing a parison, or gather, of molten glass. Molds are used to impress decorative patterns on the parison. Dip molds have the typical form of a conical beaker, but two- or three-part hinged molds were also used in the Islamic world. The pontil, a solid metal rod that is applied to the base of a vessel to hold it after it is cut off from the blowpipe, became a common tool in the early Islamic period (7th–8th century). The pontil leaves an irregular ring-shaped mark on the base that is commonly known as a "pontil mark." Wooden blocks, jacks, and shears are used to shape an object. Blocks are used to form the gather into a sphere prior to inflation; jacks, to shape the mouth of an open vessel; and shears, to trim excess hot glass during production. A marver—a smooth flat stone or metal surface over which softened glass is rolled—is also an essential tool of the glassmaker. Of course, no tool would be of much use without a glassmaker's dexterity and talent.\^/

“The surface of most utilitarian objects was not decorated; as glass objects were principally designed for everyday use, the majority of ancient glass preserved today, in complete or fragmentary form, is plain. This type of glass is often regarded as "study" material by collectors, who favor more artistically accomplished objects. Undecorated objects, however, represent a continuity of traditions through their shapes and forms or because their practical functions deserve closer examination. When a plain glass vessel is placed in the proper context and systematically analyzed, its shape, color, and technical details can be as revealing as those of any elaborately decorated object and may provide links otherwise difficult to understand.” \^/

Books: Carboni, Stefano "Undecorated Glass." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 139–61. . New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.\^/

Islamic Painted and Stained Glass

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Painted glass objects were decorated with a brush or a pen once their final shape had been attained. After being painted, they were fired in a kiln at temperatures that permanently fixed the designs on the surface without compromising the object's shape. Stained (or luster-painted) glass was produced in Egypt and Syria from the seventh through the ninth century. It was painted with pigments containing silver and/or copper and fired in a kiln at a low temperature. Glass thus treated cannot really be considered lustrous, because the pigment was "absorbed" beneath the surface through a chemical reaction and permanently colored—or stained—the glass, becoming part of its atomic structure. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]


mosque lamp from 1360 made from glass painted with enamel and gold

Most stained objects are in pale-colored glass decorated in a monochrome brownish or yellowish pigment; there was a brief period when colored glass or colored decorative patterns were favored before the monochrome style regained its appeal. Silver-based paints first turn yellow, then progressively amber and deep brown; copper-based pigments quickly become red or ruby-colored, but their firing is difficult to control in a kiln (silver was often added for this reason). Yellow and orange stains can also be obtained from both silver and copper. By applying pigments to both sides of open-shaped vessels, glassmakers highlight details or outlines and exploit the transparent glass wall to create subtle shading effects. Proper control of firing time and temperature are critical to achieve the desired results; even today this aspect remains one of the most challenging in the production of stained glass.\^/

Books: Carboni, Stefano "Glass Production in the Fatimid Lands and Beyond." In L'Égypte fatimide, son art et son histoire, edited by Marianne Barrucand, pp. 169–77.. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1999; Carboni, Stefano "Stained ('Luster-Painted') Glass." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 51–69. . New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.\^/

Hot-Worked Glass from Islamic Lands

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The objects produced in the hot-worked technique range widely in place of origin, from Egypt to Central Asia, and in time, from the early Islamic period in the seventh century to the thirteenth. They represent a type of glass that is manipulated and decorated while the blown vessel is still hot and malleable and are subdivided into three categories according to the specific decorative technique. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“Vessels with Applied Decorative Trails: Hot trails of glass, which have roughly the consistency of molasses, were "poured" over the vessel while the inflated object, which was still attached to the pontil, was rotated slowly to form a spiral pattern along its body. Often, the trails were manipulated with a pointed tool or a fine pincer to create patterns. Such objects were produced mostly in Syria and Egypt from the tenth to the fourteenth century. In the group of animal-shaped cage flasks, which belongs to this category of hot-worked glass, the trails form an openwork cage.\^/

“Works with Impressed Patterns: These objects were decorated using metal tongs with circular or square ends that had a carved design on one or both sides. The tongs were applied against the vessel and the pattern was impressed in relief on the exterior wall. Most objects of this type are small bowls decorated with a limited range of geometric, pseudo-vegetal, and zoomorphic motifs and attributed to Egyptian workshops operating in the ninth and tenth centuries. Tong-impressed vessels are usually bowls, beakers, and pitchers—objects that have an open shape—but there are also bottles formed by two separate sections that were stamped before they were joined. Small roundels and larger medallions embossed with a die also belong to this group; the former are usually attached to the walls of globular bottles; the latter were used in eleventh- and twelfth-century Afghanistan to decorate window grilles.\^/

“Glass with Marvered Trails: In this technique the trails were integrated into the blown vessel using a rotating motion against a marver (a polished stone or an iron slab; hence the term "marvered"), so that they became flush with the surface. The trails were tooled and "combed" with a toothed implement into wavy, arched, or festooned patterns. The trails are almost always white, providing a pleasant contrast with the usually dark-colored vessel. Glass with marvered trails was produced continuously in Syria and Egypt from the early Islamic period to the fourteenth century.

Books: Allan, James, ed. Islamic Art in the Ashmolean Museum. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press; : , 1995. For marvered glass, see pp. 1–30, 31–50; Carboni, Stefano. Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 163–95, 261–89, 291–321. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.\^/


mosque lamps in a chandelier at a mosque in Amman, Jordan


Islamic Glass with Mold-Blown Decoration

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The discovery, in the first century B.C., that molten glass could be inflated to create objects was soon followed by the realization that vessels could be formed and decorated in a single operation in a mold. Since their introduction by the Romans in the early first century A.D., molds have been used continuously and remain one of the most common tools of the glassmaker. The technique spread from the eastern Mediterranean region, where it originated, to all Islamic glassmaking areas, becoming particularly popular in Iran. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“Two types of molds were typically used in Islamic production. Most medieval examples were created in so-called full-size molds, though no examples of these survive. Molten glass at the end of a blowpipe was inserted into a two-part hinged mold in the shape of the vessel and then inflated. The pattern, carved on the interior walls of the mold, was impressed in relief on the glass upon inflation; the mold was opened to release the object, which was then finished with a rim, foot, or handle as necessary. Such a mold was called full-size, as no changes were made to the size or shape of the glass object after it was removed from the mold. Popular patterns include vertical ribbing or fluting, honeycomb and chevron designs, a variety of geometric and vegetal motifs, and sometimes inscriptions.\^/

“The dip-mold was also popular. Molten glass was inflated in a cylindrical mold in order to impress the pattern; the glass parison, or bubble, was then removed and further inflated outside the mold and tooled in a variety of forms to create the desired object. The subsequent inflation would make the pattern appear in a lower, less distinct relief than a pattern created using a full-size mold.\^/

“By its very nature, molded glass was duplicable to a certain extent, though the shaping and finishing details could produce a unique object. A mold had to be conceived, designed, and cast before a glass vessel was created. Most molds were probably made of bronze, though less durable materials may have been used. Thus, a metalworker was also involved in the process, making the chain of production more complex.” \^/


Mamlik bottle

Books: Carboni, Stefano. "Glass with Mold-Blown Patterns." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 197–259. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002; Folsach, Kjeld von, and David Whitehouse. "Three Islamic Molds." Journal of Glass Studies 35 (1993), pp. 48–56.\^/

Cut and Engraved Glass from Islamic Lands

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “From Egypt to Iran, Islamic cut and engraved decoration took various forms, ranging from complex relief patterns created using mechanically operated wheels and drills to hair-width incisions made with a pointed tool. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“Cold-cut glass became the most prominent artistic form of decoration in the early Islamic period, especially in the ninth and tenth centuries. While this lapidary technique is as old as glassmaking itself, dating well before glassblowing was invented, Roman and Sasanian cut glass (from eastern Mediterranean and Iranian areas, respectively) provided immediate models. From Egypt to Iran, Islamic cut and engraved decoration took various forms, ranging from complex relief patterns created using mechanically operated wheels and drills to hair-width incisions made with a pointed tool. Glass objects can be divided into six broad categories according to technique and/or decorative pattern: scratch-engraved, faceted, with disks, with raised outlines, with slant-cut decoration, or with linear decoration.\^/

“In the scratch-engraved technique, fine incisions were made using a pointed tool mounted with diamond, topaz, or corundum chips to create linear, vegetal, and geometric patterns. Facet-cut decoration, influenced by the Sasanian tradition, usually created "honeycomb" patterns of shallow facets. Raised or countersunk disks with a raised boss in the center are commonly referred to as "omphalos" (Greek for "navel"). In relief-cut glass, the background and most of the inner areas of the main design were removed by cutting and grinding, leaving the outlines and some details in relief. This group also includes Roman-inspired cameo glass—colorless glass encased by a colored layer in order to create a dramatic bichromatic contrast. In objects with incised lines, the wheel's angle of approach to the surface, either perpendicular or at a slight angle, created the distinction between the linear and the slant-cut styles.” \^/

Books: Carboni, Stefano. "Glass with Cut Decoration." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 71–137. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002; Oliver, Prudence. "Islamic Relief-Cut Glass: A Suggested Chronology." Journal of Glass Studies 3 (1961), pp. 9–29; Whitehouse, David. "The Corning Ewer: A Masterpiece of Islamic Cameo Glass." Journal of Glass Studies 35 (1993), pp. 48–56.

Enameled and Gilded Glass from Islamic Lands


14th century glass bucket from Syria

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Enameled and gilded glass is the best known and historically most treasured type of Islamic glass. The production of such glass was the specialty of the regions controlled by the Ayyubids and the Mamluks (present-day Egypt and Syria) in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In this decorative technique, gold and/or enamels (powdered opaque glass) were applied to a glass surface using an oil-based medium and a brush or a reed pen. Because gilt and individual enamel colors have different specific chemical qualities, different temperatures are required to permanently fix them on glass. Applying colors one at a time and individually fixing them would subject a vessel to reheating several times and entail the risk of deforming its shape; thus, it is likely that Mamluk glassmakers mastered a procedure in which they applied all the colors at once and fixed them during a single firing in the kiln without having them run into one another. [Source: Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“The numerous enameled and gilded objects that have survived intact demonstrate that such vessels were highly prized and probably used for special occasions. The large number of existing fragments, however, suggests that this production was not limited to courtly patronage but was also made for commercial purposes. The painterly surface of these objects and the penchant of Mamluk artists and patrons for inscribing them make this type of Islamic glass most informative, helping scholars establish chronologies and attributions.\^/

“Enameled and gilded glass developed in the twelfth century in the Syrian area and flourished during the final decades of Ayyubid power and the first of Mamluk domination in the thirteenth century. As Cairo became the capital of the empire in the fourteenth century, most enameled and gilded glass from that time may be attributed to Egyptian, rather than Syrian, workshops. The late fourteenth century saw a decline in production; by the early fifteenth century, dwindling patronage eventually caused workshops to close. By the late fifteenth century, the production of most enameled glass had shifted to Europe—to Venice, in particular. It is likely that a combination of economic, political, and artistic factors caused the disappearance of enameled glass in the Islamic world.\^/

Books: Carboni, Stefano "The Great Era of Enamelled and Gilded Glass." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 323–69.. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001; Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002; Ward, Rachel, ed. Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East. London: British Museum, 1998.\^/

Mosaic Glass from Islamic Lands


glass bowl made using the millefiori technique

Stefano Carboni and Qamar Adamjee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Mosaic glass enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the Islamic world, in the eighth and ninth centuries in Mesopotamia and probably Syria. The majority of extant Islamic mosaic objects were unearthed at the site of Samarra’, the capital of the Abbasid dynasty (750–1258) founded on the Tigris River in 836 A.D. To our knowledge, no specific term for this type of glass was used in the Islamic world; since the fifteenth century, it has commonly been known as millefiori (Italian for "thousand flowers"). [Source: Stefano Carboni, Qamar Adamjee, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“Mosaic glass first appeared in Egypt about 1400 B.C. and has been produced intermittently for 3,500 years up to the present day. The technique gained popularity in different areas of glass production, usually for short periods. It is seen in the Hellenistic art (332–165 B.C.) after ancient Egypt, then in Rome and Alexandria in the fourth century A.D. There is no evidence of continuity between late antiquity and the eighth century, and the Islamic manifestation of the technique was probably an attempt to imitate and duplicate Roman examples. This revival represented a remarkable accomplishment, as the tradition had been interrupted and every stage of the process had to be reconstructed on an experimental basis. In the fifteenth century, the technique was "reinvented" in Venice; in the nineteenth century, it again became popular throughout Europe.\^/

“The millefiori technique is time-consuming though not overly complicated. Individual roundels of glass are sliced from long canes that are created by gathering glass of different colors around a core. Each roundel retains the cross-section pattern of the original cane. To create a vessel, slices from the same or from different canes are arranged in a disk, then heated and slumped in a mold in the shape of the finished product. The roundels fuse together to form the object, which, upon cooling, is smoothed and polished. Islamic mosaic vessels, unlike the majority of Roman examples, are typified by canes with a "bull's-eye" pattern, in which a large monochrome core is encircled by one or more rings; often, the outermost ring is formed by two alternating colors that fuse and create whimsical patterns.” \^/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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