Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Glass Bowl

Object Name:
late 10th–early 11th century
Attributed to probably Egypt
Glass, bluish; blown, stained
H. 4 3/16 in. (10.7 cm)
Max. Diam. 6 in. (15.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and Gifts of Richard S. Perkins, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, Mr. and Mrs. Louis E. Seley, Walter D. Binger, Margaret Mushekian, Mrs. Mildred T. Keally, Hess Foundation, Mehdi Mahboubian and Mr. and Mrs. Bruce J. Westcott, 1974
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 454
The shape, size, and decoration of this bowl demonstrate an affinity between luster‑painted glass and ceramic lusterware. The division of the vessel walls into panels and the stylized palmette‑tree motifs frequently appear on luster‑painted bowls made in Fatimid Egypt. The Arabic inscription around the rim, in angular kufic script, has not yet been deciphered.
Few works of Islamic stained glass are as impressive as this bowl. Reconstructed from many fragments, it is almost complete, with a few minor losses. Its decoration can therefore be fully appreciated, unlike that of the great majority of similarly ornamented objects, which are fragile, thin-walled, and almost colorless. The profile and shape are also unusual, because most glass bowls have curving rather than flaring walls. A single other glass work, excavated in Syria, has been cited as proof that this shape was sometimes used,[1] but the most obvious comparative medium is luster-painted pottery from ninth- and tenth-century Iraq, as demonstrated by a bowl of almost identical profile excavated in Samarra and now in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.[2] This artistic relationship is confirmed by the division of the surface of this bowl into circular and rectangular panels, each including a single stylized palmette tree. Such a decorative program, virtually unknown in glass vessels, is relatively common in luster-painted plates and bowls, most notably from Egypt in the early Fatimid period.[3] There is little doubt that the painter of this glass bowl had ceramic models in mind when he decorated it.
The presence of an inscription around the band that separates the rim from the decoration is extremely unusual on such glassware.[4] This text was probably copied from a familiar diwan of poetry, or was perhaps a proverb, but the chosen calligraphic style and the haste in which it was copied on the curving glass surface have unfortunately defeated any attempt to decipher it except for a few scattered words.
In both stained glass and luster-painted ceramics, silver and/or copper compounds are applied to the surface to produce a metallic sheen. After its surface is painted with a mixture containing metal oxides, the object is heated in a furnace or kiln under reducing conditions. During heating, the metal ions migrate into the glass or glaze and are subsequently reduced to the metallic state. In lusterware, unlike glass, the metallic layer lies over an opacified glaze, producing a more reflective metallic appearance.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Jenkins-Madina 1986, p. 23.
2. Sarre, Friedrich, et al. Die Keramik von Samarra. Forschungen zur islamischen Kunst, 2. Die Ausgrabungen von Samarra, 2. Berlin, 1925, pl. 16, no. 2.
3. Pinder-Wilson, Ralph. "An Early Fatimid Bowl Decorated in Lustre." In Aus der Welt der islamischen Kunst: Festschrift für Ernst Kühnel zum 75. Geburtstag am 26.10.1957, edited by Richard Ettinghausen, pp. 139–43. Berlin, 1959, pl. 1; Jenkins, Marilyn. "ThePalmette Tree: A Study of the Iconography of Egyptian Lustre Painted Pottery." Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 7 (1968), pp. 119–26, pls. 1–9, figs. 2 and 21.
4. It is comparable only to an inscription on a dish in the Kuwait National Museum (no. LNS 44 G). See Carboni 2001, pp. 58–59, no. 12; and Carboni et al 2001, pp. 211–13, no. 104.

This large bowl has a flat base and straight flared walls; the rim is tooled and slightly lipped. The decoration, painted in yellow and brown stains on both sides of the vessel, includes a calligraphic band of kufic script drawn on the exterior wall below the rim. The remainder of the surface, except the base, is covered by a paneled motif of four large circles in trapezoidal panels alternating with four narrow arches. Each roundel includes a large stylized tree composed of a trunk flanked by pseudovegetal patterns, clusters of three dots, and short horizontal lines, a transitional semicircular section, and a pointed oval upper part; the background is left unpainted. Details are indicated by strokes on
the exterior surface, while the main design is painted from the inside. The trapezoidal panels are coated with brown stain, and four large yellow dots are drawn in the comers. Each of the arched panels includes a similar palmette tree, although the trunk is represented by a wavy double line flanked by bicolored dots.

In its large size, angular shape, and unusual compartmental decoration, this stained bowl is one of the most original and important glass vessels to have become available on the market in the past thirty years. Previously unknown until it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1974, it had been broken into several fragments and repaired but was revealed as almost complete upon closer examination. Both the color of the glass and the chromatic hues of the stains are within the expected range for this type of vessel from the late eighth century onward. The shape–a sort of squat flared bucket without a handle–is, however, rarely encountered in blown glass, which usually has a curved profile or, when it has straight walls, is almost invariably cylindrical. A comparable glass object, excavated south of Damascus and now in the National Museum there, has been cited as proof that the shape of this bowl is not unique (Jenkins 1986, p. 23). A polychrome luster-painted bowl from ninth- or tenth-century Iraq (excavated at Qasr al-'Ashiq in Samarra and now in Berlin; Sarre 1925, pl. 16, no. 2) is almost identical both in shape and in size to the present vessel and suggests an artistic relationship between stained glass and luster-painted ceramics.

That relationship, which is seldom obvious in the case of luster-painted objects, is confirmed by the decorative program of the glass bowl. A division of the surface into regular panels decorated with a stylized tree is otherwise unknown in glass decoration, let alone in stained glass, but is often seen on luster-painted bowls and plates ranging in origin from ninth-century Iraq to eleventh-century Egypt. The decoration on such bowls and plates is invariably painted on the interior, more visible, surface; on their curved sides, the effect is radial (see cat. no.104 in this volume for a comparable example in glass). Here the vertical profile produces an effect suggestive of an arcaded pattern; however, if the motif were to be transferred to a flat surface, the composition would become equally radial and similar to that of the ceramic examples.

One particularly significant decoration in this regard is exemplified by a ninth-century polychrome bowl in The Hague (Butler 1926, pl. 33a; Jenkins 1968, fig. 2) and, most frequently, by monochrome Fatimid pottery datable to the very beginning of the eleventh century (Pinder-Wilson 1959, pl. 1; Jenkins 1968, fig. 21). These pieces bear stylized palmette trees and additional pseudo-vegetal motifs within panels radiating from a space that may be empty or filled with a flower or rosette (similar to many stained-glass examples in which the rosette is drawn around the pontil mark; see cat. no. 109 in this volume). While in its shape and polychrome decoration this glass bowl recalls ninth-century luster pottery, in its patterning it is clearly closer to early Fatimid examples. Considering that stained glass of this type was not produced in Iraq, the present bowl can probably be attributed to Egypt in the early Fatimid period, toward the end of the tenth century or the beginning of the eleventh.

The inscription, the second prominent decorative motif, was copied in a kufic script that is unusually flattened (although marked by many long vertical strokes) and that has defied every attempt at interpretation thus far. Apparently containing neither vital information (a date, signature, or place of production) nor the customary good wishes to the owner, it appears to be in prose rather than poetry. Only a few words can be deciphered with any confidence, and these are not sufficient to understand the general meaning of the sentence. In addition, the glassmaker accidentally put his finger over one of the elongated letters while he was handling the vessel after it was freshly painted. His
fingerprint, visible to the naked eye, was permanently imprinted when the decoration was fired.

Stefano Carboni in [Carboni and Whitehouse 2001]


Alfred Joshua Butler. Islamic Pottery: A Study Mainly Historical. London, 1926.

Marilyn Jenkins [-Madina]. "The Palmette Tree: A Study of the Iconography of Egyptian Lustre Painted Pottery." Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 7 (1968), pp. 119–26.

Marilyn Jenkins [-Madina]. "Islamic Glass: A Brief History." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 44, no. 2 (fall 1986), pp. 3–56.

Ralph H. Pinder-Wilson. "An Early Fatimid Bowl Decorated in Lustre." In Aus der Welt der islamischen Kunst: Festschrift for Ernst Kühnel zum 75· Geburtstag am 26.10.1957, pp. 139–43. Berlin, 1959.

Friedrich Sarre. Die Keramik von Samarra. Forschungen zur islamischen Kunst, 2. Die Ausgrabungen von Samarra, 2. Berlin, 1925.
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in kufic script around rim: [illegible]
[ Saeed Motamed, Frankfurt, until 1974; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass Gathers: The Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibitions Gallery," May 24, 1990–March 31, 1991, no catalogue.

Corning, NY. Corning Museum of Glass. "Glass of the Sultans," May 24, 2001–September 3, 2001, no. 108.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass of the Sultans," October 2, 2001–January 13, 2002, no. 108.

Athens, Greece. Benaki Museum. "Glass of the Sultans," February 20, 2002–May 15, 2002, no. 108.

Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "The Arts of Fire: Islamic Influences on the Italian Renaissance," May 4, 2004–September 5, 2004, pl. 15.

Smith, Ray Winfield. "The Ray Winfield Smith Collection." In Glass from the Ancient World. Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass, 1957. p. 256, ill. pl. X, p. 519, Related work from the Corning Museum of Glass, inv. no. 59.1.120.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 4 (color).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Notable Acquisitions 1965–1975 (1975). p. 146, ill. (b/w).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Arts & the Islamic World, Arts & The Islamic World, vol. 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1985). p. 52, ill. fig. 5.

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Glass: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 44, no. 2 (Fall 1986). p. 22, ill. fig. 20 (color).

The Glass. Japan: Shueisha, 1992. no. 155, p. 97, ill. p. 97.

Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. "The al-Sabah Collection, Kuweit National Museum." In Glass from Islamic Lands. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001. pp. 58–59.

Carboni, Stefano, David Whitehouse, Robert H. Brill, and William Gudenrath. Glass of the Sultans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. no. 108, pp. 218-219, ill. p. 218 (color).

Hess, Catherine. "Islamic Influences on Glass and Ceramics of the Italian Renaissance." In The Arts of Fire. Los Angeles, 2004. pp. 104-105, ill. pl. 15 (color).

Bloom, Jonathan M. "Islamic Art and Architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt." In Arts of the City Victorious. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. p. 106, ill. fig. 76 (color).

Carboni, Stefano. "The Arts of the Fatimid Period at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Ismaili (2008). p. 8, ill. fig. 12 (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. 108, pp. 159-160, ill. p. 159 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam. "Shimmering Surfaces: Lustre Ceramics of the Islamic World." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). p. 91, ill. fig. 1 (color).

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