This elegantly-formed jug with dragon-headed handle is covered with intricate silver and gold inlay, including a minute inscription around the base of its neck. It is inscribed with an invocation to 'Ali ibn Abi Talib the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. As the Shi'i Muslim community holds a special reverence for 'Ali, scholars have suggested that this jug may have been created in the early 16th century, for a follower of the Shi'i Safavid dynasty.
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Title:Dragon-Handled Jug with Inscription
Date:early 16th century
Geography:Attributed to present-day Afghanistan, probably Herat
Medium:Brass; cast and turned, engraved, and inlaid with silver, gold, and black organic compound
Dimensions:H. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm) Max. Diam. 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm) Diam. of Rim: 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm) Diam. of base: 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
Small pot-bellied jugs (mashraba) such as this example are among the best-known types of Iranian metalwork. Although this jug has lost the lid that survives in several related examples, it retains the characteristic dragon-shaped handle associated with the type. The primary decoration consists of three stacked bands of gold-inlaid medallions: two rows of large medallions encircling the body and one row of smaller medallions around the neck. Set against a silver background, these gold decorations produce a lively two-toned effect, further enhanced by scrolling arabesques distributed in the interstitial spaces of both neck and body.
The form of this jug is widely found across Asia. Chinese potters of the Ming period (1368–1644) produced blue-and-white ceramic pot-bellied jugs with dragon-shaped handles during the first half of the fifteenth century. In Central and western Asia, the form became increasingly popular after the Mongol conquests, and particularly under the Timurids and Safavids, although it is still not known whether the earliest examples were ceramic, metalwork, or stone. The most celebrated example is an elaborate jade jug made for Ulugh Beg (d. 1449) datable to the second quarter of the fifteenth century. The presence of these jugs at the Timurid court is well documented in historical sources, as well as in illustrated manuscripts of the time. That the form was eventually imitated by Ottoman metalworkers is demonstrated by a number of sixteenth-century examples.
While the form remained relatively unchanged throughout the history of its production, the surface decoration and inscription of the present example indicate that it was probably produced either at the end of the fifteenth century or in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Although it has been argued that the naskhi inscription, which invokes ‘Ali as a source of comfort and the soul’s companion, definitively establishes the jug as an early Safavid piece with strong Shi‘i associations, production within a Sunni context in the late Timurid period is also equally possible. Such an attribution has been suggested for a jade signet ring with the same inscription that is also in the Museum’s collection (no. 12.224.6). Since neither the jug nor the ring is dated, both works raise similar questions of dating and attribution.
Francesca Leoni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Jenyns, Soame. Ming Pottery and Porcelain. The Faber Monographs on Pottery and Porcelain. 2nd ed. 1953. London, 1988, p. 66, fig. 35. See also Roxburgh 2005, pp. 423–24; and Lentz and Lowry 1989, p. 354.
2. Several comparable jugs with dragon-shaped handles are in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (no. MAO 697); the David Collection, Copenhagen (no. 34/1986); the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul (no. 2962); the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (no. 943-1886); and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Nuhad Es-Said Collection). See Komaroff 1992, p. 115, fig. 37; p. 116, fig. 41; p. 134, fig. 53; pp. 156–59, no. 4; pp. 166–68, no. 7.
3. Metal examples can be traced to early thirteenth-century Iran or Khurasan, as demonstrated by a jug with a flaring foot (without a handle) and a band of human-headed naskhi around the neck (Brooklyn Museum, no. 86.227.123). See Melikian-[C]hirvani, A[ssadullah] S[ouren]. "SafavidMetalwork: A Study in Continuity." Iranian Studies 7, nos. 3–4 [Studies on Isfahan: Proceedings of The Isfahan Colloquium, Part 2] (Summer–Autumn 1974), pp. 543–95, esp. pp. 566–67 n. 12. For an illustration, see Ferber 1987, p. 233, pl. 177. Another example, closer to the present one but without the foot, is a silver inlaid bronze jug dedicated to Majd al-Din ‘Isa al-Zahir (r. 1376–1404), the Artuqid ruler of Mardin, modern-day Turkey (Sotheby’s London, Thursday, April 27, 1995, lot 58).
4. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, no. 328. See Lentz and Lowry 1989, p. 144, fig. 46.
5. See ibid., pp. 277, 354. A metal pot-bellied jug with an S-shaped handle appears in the manuscript illustration "Shirin Viewing the Portrait of Khusrau" from the Khamsa of Nizami dated to A.H. 900/1494–95 A.D. (British Library and Museum, London) and is reproduced in ibid., p. 277, no. 140.
6. See Atil 1987, pp. 121–22. Also see Roxburgh 2005, p. 469.
7. Komaroff, Linda. "Timurid to Safavid Iran: Continuity and Change." Marsyas 20 (1979–80), pp. 11–16, pls. 9–12, esp. p. 13. Komaroff suggests that the appearance of the same verse on several coins and one seal datable to the reign of Shah Isma‘il I (1501–24), the founder of the Safavid dynasty, places this jug firmly in the early Safavid period, that is, in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. See also Melikian-Chirvani 1974,(footnote 3) pp. 561–62.
8. It is important to note that ‘Ali was revered not only by the Shi‘is but also by the Sunnis.
This jug is distinguished by a globular belly, cylindrical neck, convex molding, and a dragon handle. While its shape was common during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries from Anatolia to China, the present example in engraved and lavishly inlaid brass belongs to a group commonly attributed to Herat, where such jugs were produced between the mid-fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth. Surviving datable examples indicate that these jugs were particularly common under the Timurids, the earliest examples dating from about 1456–57 to 1512. However, this piece has stylistic hallmarks seen in later jugs, including those in Berlin and Copenhagen. Among these is a less intricate design, although with a denser vegetal composition, that is balanced by an alternating color scheme employing gold inlays to ornament the large medallions; the resultant contrast with the arabesque foliage in the background clarifies the overall decorative design.
Scholars have debated whether the prayer for ‘Ali, inscribed in Arabic cursive around the molded collar, supports an attribution to a Shi‘ite, and thus Safavid, context of about 1510–25. However, the sophisticated craftsmanship and elegant shape indicate that the jug was made for a member of the ruling elite. Timurid and Safavid courtly households in Iran and Central Asia used these jugs in festive and ceremonial contexts to serve wine or water, and they were sometimes among the belongings transported by migrating courts. A painting from the renowned Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, for example, shows a court attendant fetching water from a river near the shah’s encampment.
Deniz Beyazit in [Higgins Harvey 2021]
1. Examples without dragon handles have been known in ceramics and metalwork since the thirteenth century. See Sheila R. Canby in Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, Martina Rugiadi, and A.C.S. Peacock. Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2016, p. 229, no. 143; and David Collection, Copenhagen (48/2002).
2. For many examples, including the one in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (I.3606), dated to 1505, see Komaroff, Linda. "Pen-Case and Candlestick: Two Sources for the Development of Persian Inlaid metalwork." Metropolitan Museum Journal 23 (1988), pp. 89–102. The jug in Copenhagen, dated to 1515, is in the David Collection (34/1986). See also Komaroff, Linda. The Golden Disk of Heaven. Metalwork of Timurid Iran. Costa Mesa, 1992, pp. 115, 116, 124, 156–59, 166–68.
3. For the full text with translation, see Francesca Leoni in Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Najat Haidar, eds. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, pp. 194–95, no. 132. Linda Komaroff (1992 [see note 2], pp. 121–25) discusses the appearance of the same verse on several silver and gold coins datable to the reign of the founder of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Isma‘il I (1501–24)—the earliest dated coin is from 1510–11. Komaroff sees this as indicative of a dating for this jug to about 1510–25, the period between the year when Shah Isma’il took Herat from the Uzbek and Sunni ruler Shaybani Khan and the end of Shah Isma’il’s rule. Francesca Leoni (in Ekhtiar et al. 2011, [see above] pp. 194–95, no. 132) concludes that the ‘Alid inscription is not sufficient for a sole Safavid attribution, as verses evoking ‘Ali also appear in non-Shi‘ite contexts.
4. The painting is in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art; see Canby, Sheila R. "The Material World of Shah Tahmasp." In Abu’l Qasim Firdausi, The "Shahnama" of Shah Tamasp: The Persian Book of Kings, pp. 21–60. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, fig. 1.
Inscription: Around molded collar in Arabic in naskhi script:
ناد علیاً مظهر العجائبی
تجده عوناً لك في النوائبي
کل هم و غم سینجلي
بولایتك یا علي یا علي یا علي
Call upon ‘Ali, the revealer of miracles made manifest,
You will find him a comfort to you in times of misfortune
All grief and sorrows will disappear through your
O ‘Ali, O ‘Ali, O ‘Ali
Edward C. Moore (American), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A King's Book of Kings: Persian Miniatures from Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama of 1528," May 4–December 31, 1972, no catalog.
The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 34, ill. (b/w).
Atil, Esin. The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Washington, DC: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987. pp. 121–22.
Ferber, Linda. The Collector's Eye: The Ernest Erickson Collections at the Brooklyn Museum. New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1987. p. 233, ill. pl. 177.
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 89, ill. fig. 68 (color).
Lentz, Thomas W., and Glenn D. Lowry. "Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century." In Timur and the Princely Vision. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989. pp. 154, 277, 354.
Komaroff, Linda. The Golden Disk of Heaven: Metalwork of Timurid Iran. Costa Mesa, CA, 1992. pp. 115, 116,124,156–59, 166–68.
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 322, ill. fig. 26 (color).
Roxburgh, David J., ed. Turks . A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600. London, New York: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005. pp. 423–24, 469, (related).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 132, pp. 171, 194–95, ill. p. 194 (color).
Canby, Sheila R. The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp : The Persian Book of Kings. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 22, ill. fig. 1 (color).
Beyazit, Deniz. Collecting Inspiration : Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co., edited by Medill Higgins Harvey. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021. no. 114, pp. 179–80, ill.
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