Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Fragmentary Plate with Engraved Designs

Object Name:
9th century
Attributed to Syria or Iraq. Excavated in Iran, Nishapur
Glass, blue; blown, applied trail, scratch-engraved
H. ca. 9/16 in. (ca. 1.5 cm)
Diam. 11 in. (28 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1940
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
The striking blue color of this plate was achieved by adding cobalt to the glass fabric, and its surface has been engraved with various patterns arranged in concentric registers around a central roundel. The circular hole at the center indicates the place where a foot was once attached. This plate is important evidence of the active glass trade from west to east during the ninth and tenth centuries. Probably made in Syria, it was imported to Nishapur where it was found in the prosperous Tepe Madrasa section of the city. The fact that six dishes of this type were found in the crypt of the Famen Temple in China demonstrates the far eastern reaches of the trade routes that passed through Nishapur. Furthermore, the evidence from this temple, whose crypt was sealed in 874, provides an ante quem date for our plate.
This shallow plate has a plain rim with a rounded edge. The wall curves down and in, with a depression ( diam. 4 cm [1 5/8 in.]) at the center of the floor. Most of the floor is missing; similar plates have either a plain base or three applied feet (see, for example, Smith 1957, no. 605). The exterior has one continuous horizontal trail at the junction of the wall and the floor.

The interior is almost completely covered with engraved decoration arranged in four concentric bands with a roundel at the center. The outermost band is narrow and consists of a groundline supporting small, roughly semicircular scalelike elements, in which scales filled with
transverse hatching alternate with scales that are empty except for a short transverse dash. The second, wider band, which has inner and outer borders,contains two ribbons twisted into a cable on a hatched background. The third band, the widest of all and with inner and outer borders, is divided into six equal compartments by radiating rows of bordered contiguous circles, which are alternately hatched and empty except for a single short dash.

Inside the compartments, two designs alternate. The first consists of crowded sprays of leaves with transverse hatching and berries that appear to be of multiple or aggregate form. The second design is divided into three triangles by double borders. The triangle at the center, with apex pointing toward the rim, contains a palmate leaf with five branches on a coiled stem. The other triangles have allover patterns of rhomboids that alternately are hatched or contain one short dash. The innermost band, which is narrow and framed by borders, contains
a chain of contiguous circles with either transverse hatching or short dashes. Apart from the border, nothing of the central roundel survives.

Chemical analysis has revealed that the material here is a soda:lime:silica glass made with plant ash (Brill 1999a, vol. 1, p. 96, vol. 2, p. 196 [sample 6365]). Robert H. Brill compared this object with two fragments at Corning (55.1.110 and 55.1.111), both of which come from deep blue plates or bowls decorated on the inside with a central roundel and concentric bands of ornament. In both those cases, the glass was made with plant ash (Brill1999a, vol. 1, p. 96, vol. 2, p. 196 [samples 6349, 6350 ]).

It has been suggested that the palmate leaf is that of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa (Brill1993, p. 63, n. 14), or the Chinese maple. Perhaps the other leaves and the berries are those of the white mulberry tree, Morus alba, the preferred food of silkworms. Palmate leaves with five branches occur on at least four other scratch-engraved vessels that are similar to this object. All four are among the treasures concealed in the crypt of the Famen Temple (Famensi), in northeastern China, in 874; one has four such leaves on coiled stems (An 1991, pp. 126-29, figs. 3, 5, 7, 8; Koch 1995, p. 500, fig. 41.2 and pl. 138.2).

David Whitehouse in [Carboni and Whitehouse 2001]


Jiayao An. "Dated Islamic Glass in China." Bulletin of the Asia Institute, n.s., 5 (1991), pp. 123–37.

Robert H. Brill. "Glass and Glassmaking in Ancient China, and Some Other Things from Other Places." Journal (Glass Art Society] (1993), pp. 56–69.

Robert H. Brill. Chemical Analyses of Early Glasses. 2 vols. Vol. 1, Catalogue of Samples. Vol. 2, Tables of Analyses. Coming, N.Y., 1999.

Alexander Koch. "Der Goldschatzfund des Famensi: Prunk und Pietiit im chinesischen Buddhismus der Tang-Zeit." Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz 42 (I995), pp. 403–542.

Ray Winfield Smith. Glass from the Ancient World: The Ray Winfield Smith Collection. Exh. Cat. The Corning Museum of Glass. Corning. N.Y., 1957.
1939, excavated at Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1940, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds

Corning, NY. Corning Museum of Glass. "Glass of the Sultans," May 24, 2001–September 3, 2001, no. 68.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass of the Sultans," October 2, 2001–January 13, 2002, no. 68.

Athens, Greece. Benaki Museum. "Glass of the Sultans," February 20, 2002–May 15, 2002, no. 68.

McAllister, Hannah, Maurice S. Dimand, Charles K. Wilkinson, and Walter Hauser. "Excavations of the Iranian Expedition in the Kanat Teppeh, Nishapur." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 37 (1942). pp. 105-106, 109, ill. fig. 33 (b/w).

Ferrier, Ronald W., ed. The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. pp. 301-303, ill. pl. 14 (b/w).

Kröger, Jens. Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 164, pp. 117-119, ill. p. 118 (b/w).

Carboni, Stefano, David Whitehouse, Robert H. Brill, and William Gudenrath. Glass of the Sultans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. no. 68, pp. 162-163, ill. p. 162 (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. 121, ill. fig. 193 (color).

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