This ewer comes from a group of silver-inlaid brass vessels of similar shape and size decorated with a variety of imagery. While most of the examples have fluted sides and repoussé lions on their neck, the crowned harpies on the shoulder of this piece and the astrological imagery on its body heighten the auspiciousness of its ornament. Set in medallions of twisting vines terminating in rabbits’ heads, each zodiac sign appears with its ruling planet, enhancing its cosmic message.
At the time that this ewer and the group of long-necked ewers to which it relates were produced, Herat was under the control of the Ghurids, not the Seljuqs, but evidence strongly suggests that these pieces were exported to centers in Seljuq Iran and elsewhere. Most of the extant examples are between 14 7⁄8 and 15 3/4 inches (38 and 40 cm) high and share such characteristics as a neck decorated with a repoussé lion on either side of the spout, the top of which is also adorned with a repoussé lion. While the number, width, and shape of the flutes vary from ewer to ewer, the shoulder of all examples is generally flat and the foot curves outward. The diagnostic piece in the group (cat. 85 in this volume, Georgian National Museum, Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi [19-2008:32]), dated 1181–82, is inscribed with Arabic poetry and interlace decoration on its flutes. It is debatable whether the simplicity of the ornament—in contrast to this ewer’s complex decoration of pairs of repoussé addorsed, crowned harpies below the shoulder and birds at the bottom of each flute—indicates a stylistic development or a range of tastes and budgets among the metalworkers’ clients. Additionally, the amount of silver and copper inlay varied on pieces, indicating different levels of luxury in the group.
Like an even more ornate ewer in the British Museum, London (1848,0805.2), the center of each flute on this one is decorated with a sign of the zodiac enclosed in a medallion whose border is formed of vines terminating in rabbits’ heads. Each sign is combined with its planet lord. Starting from the left of the bottom of the handle and moving clockwise, the signs are Aries, the ram, ridden by Mars holding a severed head; Taurus, the bull, mounted by Venus playing a lute; Gemini as two standing figures separated by a head on a stick, which should refer to Mercury but may represent the pseudo-planet al-Jawzahr; Cancer, the crab, with the moon above it; Leo, the lion, with a tail ending in a dragon and a full sun above its back; Virgo, a kneeling figure holding a sheaf of corn, resembling leaves, in each hand; Libra, the scales, with Venus playing a lute; Scorpio with a figure of Mars holding a rod and standing between two large scorpions; Sagittarius, the centaur, turning back to shoot a leonine dragon; Capricorn, the goat, with bearded Saturn astride it; and Aquarius, the water carrier at the well. Pisces, the fish, should have appeared between Aquarius and Aries, but it is covered by the lower part of the handle. With its many human-headed benedictory inscriptions, lions and harpies, astrological imagery, and abundant inhabited vines, this ewer would have embodied the protective qualities desired in so many Seljuq objects.
Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
1. Related examples include cats. 73 and 86 in this volume; Metropolitan Museum (08.138.1); British Museum, London (1848,0805.1, .2); and Victoria and Albert Museum, London (592-1898). Further examples are in the Keir Collection of Islamic Art (see Fehérvári, Géza. Islamic Metalwork of the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century in the Keir Collection. The Keir Collection. London, 1976, pl. 16, no. 53) and the National Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul (see Melikian-Chirvani, Assadullah Souren. Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, 8th–18th Centuries. Victoria and Albert Museum Catalogue. London, 1982, p. 118, no. 45A).
2. Ward, Rachel [M]. Islamic Metalwork. London, 1993, p. 78, pl. 56.
3. Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997. Catalogue by Stefano Carboni. New York, 1997, p. 24, notes that the maker mistakenly represented the planet lord of Virgo as the bearded Saturn instead of Mercury.
Inscription: Inscribed in Arabic, in naskhi on the neck: العز والاقبال والدولة والبقا دائم لصاحبه Glory, prosperity, dominion, and perpetual life to its owner.
In anthropomorphic naskhi, on the upper neck and shoulder: العز والاقبال والدولة والنامية ]. . .[ والسعادة والبقا // العز والاقبال والدولة والسعادة والسلامة والعافية والنعمة والشاكرة والبقا دائم Glory, prosperity, dominion, growth [. . .] happiness, and long life. // Glory, prosperity, dominion, happiness, prosperity, health, prosperity, praise, and long life.
In kufic, on the bottom band: باليمن والبركة والدولة والبركة والراحة والبقا With felicitation and blessing, dominion, blessing, comfort, and long life.
On the handle: العز و الاقبال Glory and prosperity.
On the bottom: صاحبه فولاد بن میرک Its owner (is) Fulad b. Mirak.
The inscription also read by Yassir al=Tabbaa as:
Neck, top: العز و الاقبال و الدولظ و ... و السعادة و البقا
Neck, middle: العز و الاقبال و الدولة و السعادة لصاحبه
Neck, bottom: بالیمن و البرکة و الدولة و البرکة و الراحة و البقا
Shoulder: العز و الاقبال و الدولظ و السعادظ و السلامة و العافیة و النعمة و الشاکر(؟) و البقا[ء] و العمر
J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (until d. 1913; his estate, 1913–44; sold to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art," February 4, 1997–August 31, 1997, no. 9.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 118.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 139, ill. fig. 81 (b/w).
"Seljuk Bronzes from Khurasan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 4 (November 1945). pp. 87-92, ill. pp. 88-89 (b/w).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 162, p. 183, ill. (b/w).
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 19 (b/w).
Baer, Eva. Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1983. p. 97, ill. fig. 74 (b/w).
Tabbaa, Yasser. "Bronze Shapes in Iranian Ceramics of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries." Muqarnas vol. 4 (1987). pp. 101, 103, ill. fig.12 (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 42-43, ill. fig. 29 (color).
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 316, ill. fig. 12 (color).
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). p. 55, ill. fig. 65 (color).
Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 80, ill. (color).
Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: The Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 9, pp. 24-25, ill. (b/w).
Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 118, pp. 200-201, ill. (color), figs. 79-81 (details).