An almost identical ewer was unearthed near the site where the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, was assassinated at Abu Sir in Egypt. Ewers of this type may have been produced in Syria for the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs. The pierced decorations follow Byzantine prototypes. The spout, in the shape of a three‑dimensional crowing cock with ruffled wings, is rendered with great realism.
This ewer is one of five vessels with a globular body on a splayed foot, a long cylindrical neck, and a straight handle that have been related to the so-called Marwan ewer, now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. Smaller in size than its famous counterpart, the Metropolitan’s example exhibits a similar decorative program without the same level of refinement and detail. The upper section of the neck is emphasized by an openwork band of palm trees in relief. A scrolling vine bearing fruit runs along the handle and continues on the body, blossoming into a combination of half palmettes with pomegranates flanked by stylized dolphins. Finally, like the Cairo example, a rooster in the round sits on the spout, his beak open to release the liquid contained within. Scholars have pointed out parallels between the present ewer’s peculiar shape and Byzantine glass bottles, such as those excavated at Hanita, Beth She‘arim, and Beth Ras, Israel, suggesting a Near Eastern origin for this form. Its decoration also elaborates on vegetal and zoomorphic forms drawn from the Late Antique world: the rooster was a popular motif in classical antiquity, when it was associated with royalty, and its iconography was popular in the regions of the Mediterranean that became part of the Islamic caliphate. Evident as well is the impact of Eastern decorative motifs; the half palmette with pomegranates that descends from the handle probably originated in Sasanian Iran, where it appeared in stucco and stone decoration. The Marwan ewer in Cairo shows similarly inspired elements, particularly its pearl-roundel ornamentation, which can be found in Sasanian stuccos and textiles. A Sasanian silk textile with the same pearl-roundel motif dates to the reign of Marwan II ( 744–50 ), thus helping to determine the date of the ewer in the Cairo museum, and, by extension, the present example. The incorporation of pre-Islamic forms and motifs is characteristic of metalwork production during the first centuries of Islam, reinforcing an early date for this ewer and others like it. The association of the Cairo ewer with the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, is based on the fact that it was found in the surroundings of Abu Sir al-Malak in the region of Fayyum, where the ruler was assassinated and buried. Unfortunately, no historical or archaeological proof yet exists that confirms a direct connection between this vessel—or those related to it—and the Umayyad ruler. Francesca Leoni (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo (no. 9281); see O’Kane, ed. 2006, p. 21, no. 11. A list of the ewers, with bibliography, is provided in Fehervari 1976, p. 33. 2. Baer 1983, p. 86 n. 198. 3. In the Islamic period, the cock came to be associated with religious rituals, becoming God’s way to announce and regulate the practice of daily prayers. 4. Examples are attested in Kish and Ctesiphon. See New York 1978, p. 107, no. 40. 5. For a fragment of this textile, see Brend 1991, p. 43, fig. 23 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Another fragment is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York. 6. Sarre 1934.
BobrinskyCollection, Russia; Henry Harris, London (by 1931–38; to Brummer); [ Brummer Gallery, New York, 1938–41; sold to MMA]
London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 77A.
The Iranian Institute. "Exhibition of Persian Art," 1940, Gal. XI, no. 63.
New York. Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. "Lions, Dragons, and Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages. Vessels for Church and Table," July 12, 2006–October 15, 2006, no. 37.
Toronto. Aga Khan Museum. "Syria: An Unbroken History," October 15, 2016–February 26, 2017.
Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 77A, p. 40.
Ackerman, Phyllis. "The Iranian Institute, New York." In Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art. 2nd. ed. New York: The Iranian Institute, 1940. no. Gallery XI, case 63, p. 360.
Ettinghausen, Richard, Hugo Buchthal, Otto Kurz, Marvin Chauncey Ross, Basil Gray, George C. Miles, Nabih A. Faris, and Carl Johan Lamm. Ars Islamica, part 2, vol. VII (1940). ill. figs. 18, 20 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 134, ill. fig. 75 (b/w).
Harper, Prudence Oliver. The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire. New York, 1978. no. 40, p. 107.
Brend, Barbara. Islamic Art. Cambridge, MA, 1991. p. 43, ill. fig. 23, Textile in Victoria and Albert Museum helpful for dating this ewer.
Baer, Eva. Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1983. p. 86–87, ill. fig. 66 (b/w).
Barnet, Peter, and Pete Dandridge, ed. "Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages: Vessels for Church and Table." In Lions, Dragons & Other Beasts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. no. 37, p. 181, ill. (color).
O'Kane, Bernard. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2006. no. 11, p. 21.
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. 7, pp. 21, 31, ill. p. 31 (color).