Egypt or Iran
10th century AD
deep blue glass over a colourless matrix, blown in an open mould, cameo cut, lathe-turned and relief-cut
6.9 x 10.3cm
This is one of the finest pieces in a small but rather diverse group of virtuoso cameo-cut glass vessels, the decoration of which suggests that they were imitations of carved rock crystals or other hardstones of Iranian or Fatimid Egyptian manufacture. They must have been specially commissioned and are unlikely ever to have been sold on the open market, for the skill and intricate workmanship they demanded must have made them at least as dear as the hardstones themselves.
The bowl strongly recalls the fragmentary cameo-cut glass bowl with two ibexes and a Kufic inscription in the Islamic Museum in Cairo (inv.no.2463).
The small colourless blank was probably first mould-blown and then dipped in blue glass, which was turned on a lathe to define the two horizontal ridges below the rim. It is likely that the entire body was wheel-cut into a whirling pattern of three ibexes originating from a central triangular element at the base of the bowl. This contains a small circular depression at its centre, which must be the point where the object was lathe-turned. This may well be the only example of a lathe-turning point on Islamic wheel-cut glassware, although Hellenistic and Roman glasses of the 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD show a similar finish.
The ibexes have elaborate spirally-curved horns and short pointed tails. Their heads and hindquarters are defined by high ridges which are partly rouletted along their flat surfaces. Their limbs, which are filled with a flat, densely rouletted, stylized half-palmette, are outlined by curved ridges which create a six-petalled rosette. Similar whirling designs made up of a triple motif emerging from a single central point also appear on Fatimid lustre bowls.
S.M. Goldstein et al, Glass. From Sasanian Antecedents to European Imitations, The Nasser D Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, volume XV, London 2005, cat.251, pp.214–5.
J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.145, pp.124–5.