Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Hot-worked Glass from Islamic Lands

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  • 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.

    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.

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

    Qamar Adamjee
    Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Bowl, 9th–10th century
    Glass, hot-worked; H. 1 3/8 in. (3.5 cm), Max. Diam. 2 3/8 in. (5.9 cm)
    The Corning Museum of Glass (59.1.512)

    The lively and irregular three-dimensional surface of this bowl was created using a tong with a pattern carved on one end. This small object was once in the collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who often found inspiration for his Favrile glass creations in ancient glass that had acquired an iridescent patina during burial.

    Cup, 9th–10th century
    Egypt, Syria, or Iraq
    Glass, hot-worked; H. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm), Max. Diam. 3 7/8 in. (9.9 cm)
    The Corning Museum of Glass (55.1.17)

    The decoration on this cup was formed by combining simple geometric figures impressed at irregular intervals using three different tongs—one bearing a triangular motif, the second a circle, and the third a stylized heart shape. The irregular pattern thus created imparts a sense of freedom to the design while remaining within the accepted canons of glass production.

    Flask, 11th–12th century
    Probably Egypt
    Glass, hot-worked; H. 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm), Max. Diam. 1 1/2 in. (3.7 cm)
    The Corning Museum of Glass (50.1.32)

    This object is a spectacular example of the so-called spearlike flasks that were popular as kohl (eyelid makeup) containers for centuries. The shape suggests that these vessels were stored horizontally or that a support was used to keep them upright or at a slight angle. The vessel originally had a spatula for applying the compound to the eyelids.

    The Durighiello Bottle, 13th century
    Glass, hot-worked; H. 7 7/8 in. (20 cm), Max. Diam. 4 3/8 in. (11 cm)
    Trustees of The British Museum, London (1919.5–22.39)

    This bottle with its harmonious proportions and skillfully balanced decoration, is one of the most accomplished and celebrated glass objects with marvered trails. Such a bold contrast of white and seemingly black glass was created by pressing, or marvering, white trails into the dark purple matrix and subsequently "combing" them with a pointed tool. Known as the Durighiello Bottle after its former owner, the French collector Joseph-Ange Durighiello, it was reputedly found at Adana, a town near the southern Anatolian coast of Turkey.