This bottle clearly illustrates the transitional phase of development between Late Antique and early Islamic period artifacts. Of all the crafts, glassmaking was perhaps the most conservative in terms of both artistic continuity over time and the transfer of skills and ideas from one generation to another. Since the revolutionary discovery of glassblowing during the first century B.C. in the Roman-controlled areas of the eastern Mediterranean, the enormous possibilities linked to this practice had allowed glassmakers to expand dramatically their creative horizons, in particular to increase the variety of shapes and decorative techniques.
With elegant proportions and a long, narrow neck, this pale blue bottle is decorated with dark blue trails applied in a spiraling motion around the entire neck as well as in a wide band on its body. The thickening of the pattern around the neck divides it evenly into two sections, while the "spectacle" design around the body—created by pinching the trails together at regular intervals—gives the vessel a dynamic appearance. The shape, the trailed decoration, and the spectacle pattern of applied decoration had become well established in the fourth to fifth centuries A.D. but continued to be used at least into the eighth century. The base of this bottle shows no evidence of the use of the pontil; this technical feature would suggest a pre-Islamic date. Around the advent of Islam, glassmakers universally adopted the use of the pontil (a short metal rod that was attached under the base of the vessel before detaching the blowpipe) to facilitate both handling and the application of decorative techniques.
These considerations demonstrate how difficult it is to differentiate between objects produced before or after the advent of Islam because of the strong continuity in production over centuries. The history of this bottle within the Museum is instructive in this respect as well: acquired at an unknown time and under unknown circumstances, it was accessioned initially by the Department of Greek and Roman Art, then eventually transferred to the Department of Near Eastern Art (subsequently divided into the departments of Ancient Near Eastern and Islamic Art) in 1960.
While it could be argued that this bottle does not belong to the Islamic period, its importance lies in the fact that it symbolizes the transition between two historical eras. Thus, it finds its rightful place in the galleries of early Islamic art.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. This continued use was evidenced particularly in the Egyptian region but also found as far away as eastern Iran; see Ann Arbor 1978, no. 34; Kroger 1995, no. 151; Scanlon and Pinder-Wilson 2001, p. 65, pl. 32i. The last reference relates to a conical lamp found in Fustat (Old Cairo) in a 750–800 archaeological context.
This bottle has a globular body with a flattened, slightly kicked base and a long narrow neck. It is decorated with darker blue trails applied around the neck and the body. On the neck the trail spirals from the rim to the base; additional trails appear at the rim, in the center, and at the base. One of the rare intact examples having a hot-worked trailed decoration in the so-called spectacle pattern, the object was created with the aid of a pincer. The trails, arranged horizontally, were dragged toward the center at regular intervals, thus forming a sequence of oval figures around the body.
The application of trails in a darker shade than that of the vessel itself, their arrangement in a spiraling stroke, and their manipulation while
still hot into different decorative patterns are all characteristics that reflect the smooth, almost unnoticeable transition from the glass production in the Roman provinces of late antiquity to that of the early Islamic period. As a rule, Late Roman glass did not have a pontil mark, and neither does this bottle, which was tooled and decorated while still attached to the blowpipe. Since most examples of Islamic glass do have such a feature, the bottle probably originated in the pre-Islamic or very early Islamic period in a glass center that opposed the recently introduced use of the pontil.
The spectacle pattern was common in the fifth and sixth centuries (Smith 1957, no. 425; Auth 1976, no. 193; Higashi 1991, no. 48) and survived in the Egyptian region probably until the eighth century (Soucek 1978, no. 34). Fragments from a conical beaker with such a pattern were unearthed at Fustat (Old Cairo) in an eighth-century context, and glass of this type was exported to–or perhaps imitated in –eastern Iran, reaching as far as Nishapur (see, respectively, Scanlon 1968, fig. p. 192 bottom left, and Kroger 1995, no.151).
Stefano Carboni in [Carboni and Whitehouse 2001]
Susan H. Auth. Ancient Glass at the Newark Museum from the Eugene Schaefer Collection of Antiquities. Newark, N.J., 1976.
Elisabeth L. Higashi., ed. Glass from the Ancient World: So Diverse a Unity. Exh. cat. Mardigian Library, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Dearborn, 1991.
Jens Kröger . Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period. New York. 1995.
George T. Scanlon. "Fustat and the Islamic Art of Egypt". Archeology 21 (June 1968), pp. 188–95.
Ray Winfield Smith. Glass from the Ancient World: The Ray Winfield Smith Collection. Exh. Cat. The Corning Museum of Glass. Corning. N.Y., 1957.
Priscilla Parsons Soucek. Islamic Art from the University of Michigan Collections. Exh. cat. Kelsey Museum of Archeology, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, 1978.
Unknownprovenance; accessioned by the Metropolitan Museum in 1921
Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte islamico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 63.
Corning, NY. Corning Museum of Glass. "Glass of the Sultans," May 24, 2001–September 3, 2001, no. 27.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass of the Sultans," October 2, 2001–January 13, 2002, no. 27.
Athens, Greece. Benaki Museum. "Glass of the Sultans," February 20, 2002–May 15, 2002, no. 27.
Scanlon, George T., and Ralph Pinder-Wilson. "Finds Excavated by the American Research Center in Egypt, 1964–1980." In Fustat Glass of the Early Islamic Period:. London, p. 65, pl. 32i.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Glass: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 44, no. 2 (Fall 1986). p. 14, ill. fig. 8 (b/w).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel S. Walker, Arturo Ponce Guadián, Sussan Babaie, Stefano Carboni, Aimee Froom, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, Tomoko Masuya, Annie Christine Daskalakis-Matthews, Abdallah Kahil, and Rochelle Kessler. "Colegio de San Ildefonso, Septiembre de 1994-Enero de 1995." In Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994. no. 63, pp. 170-171, ill. p. 171 (b/w).
Kröger, Jens. Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995.
Carboni, Stefano, David Whitehouse, Robert H. Brill, and William Gudenrath. Glass of the Sultans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. no. 27, p. 110, ill. (color).
Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250. 2nd ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. p. 71, ill. fig. 109 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 13, p. 36, ill. p. 36 on Friday.