10th century AD
banded agate, carved and engraved
inscribed in Kufic script
2.7 x 2.7 x 2.7cm
This exquisite inkwell is an exceptional specimen of hardstone carving in medieval Islam. Contemporary accounts of minerals and semi-precious stones all refer to agate, which had been prized for small vessels since classical times but which, compared with rock crystal and jade, has barely survived.
The faces of the inkwell bear the basmalah and a Qur’anic inscription from surah al-Kahf (XVIII), verse 109, which is charmingly apposite: Say: ‘If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid.’
J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.158, p.132.