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
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
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.
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
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
4 They are both free blown and
manipulated. The first one was made of brown, the other one of green glass.
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).
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
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