A selection of approximately 160 of the most spectacular glass objects from the Islamic world is on view, ranging from those inspired by the late antique tradition in the seventh century to nineteenth-century Persian and Indian glass. The exhibition also includes European glass from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century, made for the Oriental market or directly inspired by Islamic models, and a selection of glass found at various archaeological sites.
The exhibition has been organized by technique, thematically and chronologically within each section. An introductory gallery features one example of each major category of Islamic glass—undecorated blown glass, mold-blown glass, hot-worked glass, mosaic glass, cold-cut and engraved glass, and painted glass—providing the visitor with an overview of the amazing range of shapes, broad repertoire of techniques, and jewel-like color palette known to Islamic glassmakers.
Islamic glassmakers were not only brilliant technicians and innovators in their own right but they also preserved many of the methods of their Sasanian and Roman predecessors, passing them on centuries later to Venetian and other masters. Different decorative techniques have been popular over the ages and often a particular type is favored over the others. For example, mosaic glass enjoyed its greatest achievement in Abbasid Iraq in the ninth through tenth century, while elaborately decorated enameled and gilded works are the best known productions of the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods (thirteenth–fourteenth century) in Egypt and Syria.
Artistically decorated glass was produced and appreciated in the Safavid (1501–1732), Ottoman (1281–1923), and Mughal (1526–1858) empires—all of which were characterized by strong patronage of the arts—but the increasing availability of high-quality European glass and an interest in acquiring and displaying imported objects also affected local production. Examples of work by European artists who strove to imitate Islamic glass—including Philippe-Joseph Brocard (d. 1896), the Art Nouveau designer Émile Gallé (1846–1904), and the Viennese firm J. & L. Lobmeyr—are also being shown.