Engraved Bronze Ewer

SKU LO.1002
Circa

11 th Century AD to 12 th Century AD

Dimensions

11″ (27.9cm) high

Medium

Bronze

Origin

Central Asia

Gallery Location

UK


 

Pear-shaped ewer standing on a rather high sloping foot. A simple raised collar at the base of the neck. The simple undulated strap handle with a bold palmette finial topped with a knob. The exterior of the body engraved with a horizontal register of calligraphic script under the collar, arabesque motifs in cartouches including a sphinx in profile and foliage stemming from tall globular vases on the belly. On the foot, a further band of vertical partitions nad dotted circles.

The animated well spaced and perfectly suited decoration is in tune with the artistic production of the mid 12th century, when a huge variety of decorative themes and typologies were spurred, commissioned by the emerging strong bourgeoisie in northeastern Iran. Inscriptions occur on nearly every object and usually consist of anonymous wishes, though sometimes they might provide information about patrons, makers and dates of manufacture.

Metalwork in the Near East and Central Asia has always enjoyed a prestige beyond that of other applied arts such as ceramics and textiles. Major pieces were specially commissioned and often bear dedications to the princes and great nobles for whom they were made, together with the proudly inscribed names of their makers and decorators; their very durability and impressive appearance give them a high standing and dignity of their own. The best pieces were in bronze, either engraved, inlaid, overlaid or beaten in repousse', that is hammered out from behind of designs to appear in relief on the surface. The roots of Islamic metalwork are to be found in Byzantium and Persia. In the early 7th century the Arabs took over these two great empires and absorbed local metal techniques and typologies, and contributed to a new development in metalwork by adding inscriptions in kufic script. Not much is known of the art of metalwork in Persia and Central Asia in the early Islamic period, with the exception of few large dishes datable to the Ghaznavids, until the Seljuq period, when new forms started to appear, while lavish inlays and incrustation of gold, silver and copper crept onto the surface.

Ewers such as this, were probably made of high- tin bronze, an alloy of copper and about 20 per cent tin. This alloy was known in early Islamic times as asfidroy, literally 'white copper' and was used for bowls, stem bowls, dishes, ewers and candlesticks. Amongst the particular properties of high tin bronze is that it can be red-hot forged, like iron, and if quenched, becomes reasonably malleable when cold. If permitted to cool slowly than hammered, it shatters. Three centres of quarternary bronze manufacture are recorded in Islamic texts of the 10th-11th centuries: Rabinjian near Bukhara, Hamadan in western Persia and Sistan province in eastern Persia. Transoxiana, i.e. Eastern Persia and Afghanistan, provided the inspiration for the Hamadan industry as well and kept on producing high-tin copper alloy vessel well into the 13th century, although with less originality than before. The quality of engraving of our ewer would seem to indicate a 12th-13th centuries dating and a Transoxiana provenance.

For a comparable example see Ettinghausen et al, Islamic Art and Architecture, 2001: pl. 255, p.167

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