Cut and Engraved Glass from Islamic Lands

See works of art
  • Goblet with incised designs
  • Fragments of a Plate with Engraved Designs
  • Beaker with relief-cut decoration
  • Ewer with Birds and Animals

Works of Art (5)


Cold-cut glass became the most prominent artistic form of decoration in the early Islamic period, especially in the ninth and tenth centuries. While this lapidary technique is as old as glassmaking itself, dating well before glassblowing was invented, Roman and Sasanian cut glass (from eastern Mediterranean and Iranian areas, respectively) provided immediate models. From Egypt to Iran, Islamic cut and engraved decoration took various forms, ranging from complex relief patterns created using mechanically operated wheels and drills to hair-width incisions made with a pointed tool.

Glass objects can be divided into six broad categories according to technique and/or decorative pattern: scratch-engraved, faceted, with disks, with raised outlines, with slant-cut decoration, or with linear decoration.

In the scratch-engraved technique, fine incisions were made using a pointed tool mounted with diamond, topaz, or corundum chips to create linear, vegetal, and geometric patterns. Facet-cut decoration, influenced by the Sasanian tradition, usually created “honeycomb” patterns of shallow facets. Raised or countersunk disks with a raised boss in the center are commonly referred to as “omphalos” (Greek for “navel”). In relief-cut glass, the background and most of the inner areas of the main design were removed by cutting and grinding, leaving the outlines and some details in relief. This group also includes Roman-inspired cameo glass—colorless glass encased by a colored layer in order to create a dramatic bichromatic contrast. In objects with incised lines, the wheel’s angle of approach to the surface, either perpendicular or at a slight angle, created the distinction between the linear and the slant-cut styles.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2002


Carboni, Stefano, and Qamar Adamjee. “Cut and Engraved Glass from Islamic Lands.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2002)

Further Reading

Carboni, Stefano. "Glass with Cut Decoration." In Glass from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection, pp. 71–137. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001.

Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. Glass of the Sultans. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. See on MetPublications

Oliver, Prudence. "Islamic Relief-Cut Glass: A Suggested Chronology." Journal of Glass Studies 3 (1961), pp. 9–29.

Whitehouse, David. "The Corning Ewer: A Masterpiece of Islamic Cameo Glass." Journal of Glass Studies 35 (1993), pp. 48–56.

Additional Essays by Stefano Carboni

Additional Essays by Qamar Adamjee