Tareq Rajab Museum



Glassware in the Museum

    *A Closer Look at the Glass wares in the museum

    The Near and Middle East had glass making traditions going back many centuries, if not millenia. Unfortunately at present nobody knows for certain where and when glass making was discovered. It is, however, most likely, that it had to have been in Egypt, where the first glaze, which was a beautiful turquoise coloured alkaline glaze, was applied on steatite or “Egyptian faience” vessels and objects. It was this beautifully coloured alkaline glaze which may have offered the notion idea to the potters to manufacture vessels of this strange, but attractive artificial material. It now appears that actual glass making was introduced only during the period of the XVIIIth dynasty (1567BC – 1352BC). However, these early glass making was short-lived. It had lasted hardly more than 500 years. Then it re-appeared again in Roman times, around the time of Christ and then continued in Egypt right up the advent of Islam. 1 From Egypt the technique has very quickly spread over to Syria, Mesopotamia and to a smaller extent to Parthian Iran. It was only in late Roman and in Sasanian times that glass manufacture in the three last areas has really took off. There was no reason why glass manufacture would not continue after the advent of Islam. On the contrary, the disappearance of the great divide between the Roman, later Byzantine Empires and Sasanian Iran, has only contributed to a freer and greater transfer  of techniques and the spread of ideas to these previously separated worlds. Accordingly, the establishment of the great Umayyad and later the Abbasid Empires not only inherited the earlier glass making traditions, but at the same time greatly promoted the continuous production of these. Yet, due to the disappearance of the previous separation, it makes the task of identification and even dating so much more difficult and arduous.

                The first vessel in this collection is a good example for the problem of attribution and dating. It is a beautiful, mould-blown pilgrim flask, made of green and blue glass and its surface decoration was achieved by cutting (GLS-16-TSR). Its dating nevertheless was possible, since an identical vessel was discovered in a scholarly excavation at Tarsus in southeastern Anatolia before the Second World War. The pilgrim-flask at Tarsus was found with Umayyad and early Abbasid pottery.  By comparing the Tareq Rajab Museum’s object to the Tarsus pilgrim-flask, it makes it possible to date it to the late 7th or early 8th century AD and attribute it to a Syrian glass centre.

                Another important glass manufacturing centre in early Abbasid times was flourishing in Baghdad and another one at Basra.  The center in Baghdad was particularly well-known for its ewers and bottles which bear inscriptions, usually giving the name of the artist and the place of manufacture. The mould-blown brown glass bottle which has an epigraphic band, written in Kufic style, running around its shoulder, is most likely the product of that workshop in Baghdad and because of its shape and inscription may be dated to the 9th or 10th century (GLS-702-TSR). Unfortunately the vessel is much worn and hence the inscription is not clearly visible. The second vessel which may be the work of the same centre, is the small mould-blown white glass ewer, again with a Kufic inscription of which the word ‘amala, “the work of…” or “made by…” is clearly readable (GLS-710-TSR). The free blown yellow glass jug which has no surface decoration, but a large handle is attached to it with a small thumb-piece on top, may also belong to this Baghdad workshop    (GLS-23-TSR).

                The two small figural objects, namely the quadruped (GLS-250-TSR) and the two jars carrying mule (GLS-5-TSR), belong to a well-known group of glass objects which are all attributed to Syria and dated to the 9th or 10th century. 4 They are both free blown and manipulated. The first one was made of brown, the other one of green glass.

                Another free blown and wheel cut decorated yellowish-white glass is a beaker (GLS-6-TSR) which comes very close to Iranian examples made during the Samanid period (819 – 999AD). Such vessels were excavated at Nishapur and several others are preserved in various public and private collections. The mould-blown decorated brown glass small jug or pitcher may also originate from Khorasan, but it should be dated to a somewhat later period, i.e. to the 11th or 12th century (GLS-52-TSR). The mould-blown and appliqué decorated green glass bottle belongs to a well-known group of glass vessels and also comes from Iran (GLS-79-TSR). Large number of these have survived and are preserved in various collections. The neck and shoulder fragment of a similar green glass bottle was excavated at Ghubayrā in Kirman, Iran (excavation no.72-200). 

                The small yellowish-green flask with its number of oval appliqué facets on its spherical body (GLS-454-TSR), is perhaps the earliest glass object in the collection, as it can be dated to the late Sasanian or early Islamic period, i.e. between the 6th and early 8th centuries. Once more many such vessels are known and a few of these were also uncovered at Ghubayrā.

                The mould-blown large beaker with its extremely delicate wheel-cut decoration, depicting four birds with a horizontal register (GLS-211-TSR), is a typical specimen of the highly appreciated vessels which were made in Egypt and Syria during the early Abbasid period.

                Indian glass of the Mughal period is reperesented here by two mould-blown greenish-yellow and polychrome painted glass bottles (GLS-711-TSR), which were made in Gujarat during the second quarter of the 18th century.  The last item under this section is a finely carved and painted rock crystal chess set (GLS-688-TSR) which was probably made during the first half of the 19th century.


    A Closer Look at the Glass wares in the museum



Tareq Rajab Museum

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