Two Glass Vessels with Applied Decoration (Corning Museum of Glass 79.1.270 and MMA 2000.279.2)
These delicate glass vessels lend insight into eating and drinking practices in Iran during the reign of the Great Seljuqs. The cup with a low foot (Corning Museum of Glass 79.1.270) is decorated with a form of applied globules called prunts, arranged in three horizontal rows around the cup. These are bordered above by a narrow band formed of two thin trails of glass and below by one trail. While the shape of the cup with its straight sides and low, splayed foot may derive from relief-cut glass cups of the tenth century, some late eleventh- century ceramic bowls also have straight sides, but with a ring, not splayed, foot (fig. 60 in this volume, MMA 20.120.216)), attesting to the popularity of the form. Nevertheless, drinkers who appear in Seljuq ceramics and metalwork do not use cups of this shape, which may simply be a result of the artistic convention of depicting wine glasses as conical vessels with or without a stem foot or because straight-sided cups were not used by the type of personages represented on ceramics and metalwork. Despite the Qur’anic injunction against the consumption of wine, poetry and legal texts as well as visual evidence indicate widespread wine drinking in the medieval Iranian world. In addition to grapes for red and white wine, alcoholic drinks were produced from fermented dates, fermented sugar, fruit such as figs, apricots, peaches, blackberries, cherries, and some vegetables. Beer was made from various grains, and the traditional drink of Turks, kumis, came from fermented mare’s milk.
In representations of drinkers in other media such as metalwork, ceramics, and stucco (see cats. 16, 38 in this volume, Philadelphia Museum of Art 1929-69-1 and Brooklyn Museum 73.30.6), conical beakers appear but the flange and splayed foot are usually invisible, and the beakers are often much larger than the example seen here. Since drinkers depicted on objects are invariably men, dainty goblets may have been intended for women’s use or for small quantities of strong fermented drinks. However, a goblet with a flange and splayed foot appears on a lusterware bowl dated A.H. 575/A.D. 1179–80 (fig. 61 in this volume, Private Collection). It is being offered to a bearded man in a turban by a young servant in the presence of a beardless figure enthroned in a garden. The servant holds the goblet with his thumb touching the edge of the flange and his forefinger underneath it, but on the actual glass goblet the swirling trailed decoration on its sides may have kept the drinker’s hand from slipping while drinking. Most representations of drinkers do not show them actually imbibing; rather, they hold the goblet by the stem in a static pose, which may reflect a princely prerogative and one stage of the etiquette of a bazm, or Persian feast.
Although the everted rim of the goblet depicted on the bowl differs from that of MMA 2000.279.2, the figures and inscription on the bowl provide useful information about the period and context in which such goblets would be used. The poem below the figures refers to the amir of Transoxiana saying, one assumes to his turbaned guest, that he should toil in the land of Merv to become joyous and "take ample wine and give brimful goblets" of it. By 1179 the Seljuq sultan Tughril III no longer controlled Transoxiana, begging the question of whether the bowl was produced, presumably in Kashan, for a Seljuq patron nostalgic for the "good old days" when Sultan Sanjar ruled from Merv (1118–57), or for a patron from one of the rival dynasties rising in the east. The place of production of the glass goblet would have been in the eastern Iranian world, as comparable examples have been found in Afghanistan, northern Iran, and Turkmenistan.
In a tavern scene from the illustrated Maqamat of al-Hariri dated 1237, where the protagonist al-Harith finds the rascal Abu Zayd enjoying the wine, the cupbearers, and the music, a tippler on a balcony appears to be using a cup that is similar in shape to Corning Museum of Glass 79.1.270. Although this drinker’s companion holds a conical glass or cup and both vessels are green, the differently shaped glasses suggest that, in informal and/or commercial situations, wine was consumed from a variety of containers. Conical glasses with or without stems were not reserved for potentates and were apparently popular with drinkers of all classes. The straight-sided glass cup, on the contrary, so rarely illustrated in other media, may have been used only by those who were not directly connected to the rich or powerful, such as the drinker on the balcony. Without more corroborating evidence, one can only speculate about the social implications of different shapes of glasses. However, since even the way they were held varies, the suggestion is that a specific etiquette applied to some but not all types of drinking vessels.
Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
1. Sadan, J. “Vin: Fait de civilisation.” In Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, edited by Myriam Rosen-Ayalon, pp. 129–60, and errata. Jerusalem, 1977, p. 134.
2. Pancaroglu, Oya. Perpetual Glory: Medieval Islamic Ceramics from the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection. Chicago, 2007, p. 137, no. 89.
3. Carboni, Stefano. Glass from Islamic Lands. The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait National Museum. New York, 2001, p. 172, describes the technique of this and related goblets. Carboni suggests that the goblets were stored upside down, which is borne out by the appearance of a goblet placed in this way next to a glass carafe of red wine on a mina’i bowl; see Folsach, Kjeld von. Art from the World of Islam in The David Collection. Rev. and enl. ed. 1990. Copenhagen, 2001, p. 153, no. 167.
4. Pancaroglu 2007 (note 2 above), p. 136.
5. For Kashan as the primary center of Persian lusterware production, see cats. 108a, g in this volume (Victoria and Albert Museum C49-1960 and Benaki Museum TE 705).
6. Carboni 2001 (note 3 above), p. 172. The pair to the goblet is in the Metropolitan Museum (2000.279.1).
7. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (MS Arabe 5847; fol. 33r). See Grabar, Oleg. The Illustrations of the Maqamat. Studies in Medieval Manuscript Illumination; Chicago Visual Library Text-Fiche, 45. Chicago and London, 1984, pp. 10–11; see also http://gallica. bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8422965p/f75.image.r=Arabe%205847.langFR (accessed June 8, 2015).