Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Cut and Engraved Glass from Islamic Lands

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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.


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.

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Cited Works of Art or Images (4)

  • Ewer
  • Ewer (detail)
  • Bowl
  • Bottle

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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.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Corning Ewer, ca. 1000
Western Asia or Egypt
Glass, cut and engraved; H. at rim 6 1/4 in. (16 cm), Max. Diam. 3 5/8 in. (9.3 cm)
The Corning Museum of Glass, Purchased with the assistance of the Clara S. Peck Endowment (85.1.1)

The so-called Corning Ewer is one of the masterpieces of Islamic art and of glass production worldwide. The closest comparison is with the Buckley Ewer (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which, however, is monochromatic. The shape and quality of the decoration have parallels in rock-crystal ewers made for the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Relief-cut glass of such quality, however, is usually attributed to the Iranian region, where both the Corning and the Buckley Ewers reportedly were found. The question of their origin, therefore, remains unresolved.

Corning Ewer, ca. 1000
Western Asia or Egypt
Glass, cut and engraved; H. at rim 6 1/4 in. (16 cm), Max. Diam. 3 5/8 in. (9.3 cm)
The Corning Museum of Glass, Purchased with the assistance of the Clara S. Peck Endowment (85.1.1)

The so-called Corning Ewer is one of the masterpieces of Islamic art and of glass production worldwide. The closest comparison is with the Buckley Ewer (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which, however, is monochromatic. The shape and quality of the decoration have parallels in rock-crystal ewers made for the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Relief-cut glass of such quality, however, is usually attributed to the Iranian region, where both the Corning and the Buckley Ewers reportedly were found. The question of their origin, therefore, remains unresolved.

Bowl, 9th–10th century
Western Asia, perhaps Iran
Glass, cut and engraved
The Corning Museum of Glass (55.1.136)

This bowl was made by sagging a disk of glass over a lobed form. The use of this uncommon technique is confirmed by the spherical shape of the bubbles trapped in the glass, which would be more elongated if the object had been inflated. Another unusual characteristic is that the glass contains a high percentage of lead oxide, as does crystal.

Bottle, 9th century
Syro-Palestinian region or Egypt
Glass, cut and engraved; H. 8 1/8 in. (20.7 cm), Max. Diam. 4 7/8 in. (12.5 cm), Diam. at rim 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm)
The Corning Museum of Glass (68.1.1)

This bottle belongs to a distinctive group of glass vessels with scratch-engraved decoration. Although colors, shapes, and archaeological evidence vary, several decorative features distinguish this somewhat homogenous group. Frequent motifs are a sawtooth pattern (usually drawn as the uppermost decorative band), a ropelike motif, and a hatched background, all of which appear on this vessel.