Bronze Ewer with Pomegranate Finial

SKU JB.1349

11th Century AD to 13th Century AD


7.3″ (18.5cm) high x 3.9″ (9.9cm) wide




Central Asia

Gallery Location



Cast, copper-bronze ewer with chased and incised decoration; flaring, rounded sides rise up from splayed foot-ring through broad, flattened shoulders to tall funnel neck with flat, everted rim; undulated handle, ribbed for grip, flanked by tangs and surmounted by pomegranate finial acting as thumb-rest; Kufic inscription to shoulder; lobed cartouche with harpy against arabesque ground flanked by prowling feline on either side. Superb condition, intact, attractive glossy patina over whole. An early example from a small group of extant pomegranate-topped ewers dating to between 9th- 11th centuries. The Barakat Collection houses five pieces of this ware, which share a very distinct physiognomy, yet, differ in size and decoration. The decoration in this case singles this piece out and propels it into a superior class of metalwork. Executed in a fine and steady hand, the design is well laid-out and rendered in an articulate and well- mannered way. The shape of the vessel and pomegranate finial find clear predecessors in Sassanian metalwork. The pomegranate is a recurrent theme of interest throughout history and is seen in the art of the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Persia, Phoenicia and Egypt. Much of the imagery we see here is also owed to Persian metalwork. The harpy – a mythological creature with human head and body of a bird – has been seen the art of the ancient Middle East for centuries and was most likely transmitted to Islam by Persian sources following the fall of the last Iranian empire in ACE 651. While, the significance most likely changes over the centuries, the harpy in Islamic art may broadly be seen to have positive connotations and astrological significance associated with the planet Mercury. The felines that flank the harpy also imitate Persian metalwork and may be viewed as heraldic symbols intended to legitimise power or authority. Rather than altering the design of the luxury goods that flooded the market, Islamic artisans appropriated certain elements of the lexicon and perpetrated them within their own… Arabic script has always been viewed as exalted and holy due to the association of the script and the Quran, lending to a desire to ornament everyday objects with inscriptions. Metal objects were the most important items of equipment among the middle classes in Muslim society and any discerning household would have had a retinue of everyday metalwork objects. Precious metals were costly and in all circumstances demanded great knowledge and skill to work. Given its size, this piece is unlikely to have held wine like the other examples. Perhaps it were used as a decantering jug or for oils instead. A similar example dated 11th-12th century from Iran is currently on display in Gallery 451 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Cf. Islamic Art/The David Collection, Folsach (Copenhagen 1990), P.186, no.302; Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 9th October 2009, lot 105 and 7th October 2010, lot 91.

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