Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Dragon-Handled Jug with Inscription

Object Name:
late 15th– first quarter 16th century
Attributed to present-day Afghanistan, probably Herat
Brass; cast and turned, engraved, and inlaid with silver, gold, and black organic compound
Ht. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm) Max. Diam. 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm) Diam. of Rim: 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm) Diam. of base: 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
Credit Line:
Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 455
This elegantly-formed jug with dragon-headed handle is covered with intricate silver and gold inlay, including a minute inscription around the base of its neck. It is inscribed with an invocation to 'Ali ibn Abi Talib the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. As the Shi'i Muslim community holds a special reverence for 'Ali, scholars have suggested that this jug may have been created in the early 16th century, for a follower of the Shi'i Safavid dynasty.
Small pot-bellied jugs (mashraba) such as this example are among the best-known types of Iranian metalwork. Although this jug has lost the lid that survives in several related examples, it retains the characteristic dragon-shaped handle associated with the type. The primary decoration consists of three stacked bands of gold-inlaid medallions: two rows of large medallions encircling the body and one row of smaller medallions around the neck. Set against a silver background, these gold decorations produce a lively two-toned effect, further enhanced by scrolling arabesques distributed in the interstitial spaces of both neck and body.

The form of this jug is widely found across Asia. Chinese potters of the Ming period (1368–1644) produced blue-and-white ceramic pot-bellied jugs with dragon-shaped handles during the first half of the fifteenth century.[1] In Central and western Asia, the form became increasingly popular after the Mongol conquests, and particularly under the Timurids and Safavids,[2] although it is still not known whether the earliest examples were ceramic, metalwork, or stone.[3] The most celebrated example is an elaborate jade jug made for Ulugh Beg (d. 1449) datable to the second quarter of the fifteenth century.[4] The presence of these jugs at the Timurid court is well documented in historical sources, as well as in illustrated manuscripts of the time.[5] That the form was eventually imitated by Ottoman metalworkers is demonstrated by a number of sixteenth-century examples.[6]

While the form remained relatively unchanged throughout the history of its production, the surface decoration and inscription of the present example indicate that it was probably produced either at the end of the fifteenth century or in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Although it has been argued that the naskhi inscription, which invokes ‘Ali as a source of comfort and the soul’s companion, definitively establishes the jug as an early Safavid piece with strong Shi‘i associations,[7] production within a Sunni context in the late Timurid period is also equally possible. Such an attribution has been suggested for a jade signet ring with the same inscription that is also in the Museum’s collection (no. 12.224.6).[8] Since neither the jug nor the ring is dated, both works raise similar questions of dating and attribution.

Francesca Leoni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]


1. Jenyns, Soame. Ming Pottery and Porcelain. The Faber Monographs on Pottery and Porcelain. 2nd ed. 1953. London, 1988, p. 66, fig. 35. See also Roxburgh 2005, pp. 423–24; and Lentz and Lowry 1989, p. 354.

2. Several comparable jugs with dragon-shaped handles are in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (no. MAO 697); the David Collection, Copenhagen (no. 34/1986); the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul (no. 2962); the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (no. 943-1886); and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Nuhad Es-Said Collection). See Komaroff 1992, p. 115, fig. 37; p. 116, fig. 41; p. 134, fig. 53; pp. 156–59, no. 4; pp. 166–68, no. 7.

3. Metal examples can be traced to early thirteenth-century Iran or Khurasan, as demonstrated by a jug with a flaring foot (without a handle) and a band of human-headed naskhi around the neck (Brooklyn Museum, no. 86.227.123). See Melikian-[C]hirvani, A[ssadullah] S[ouren]. "SafavidMetalwork: A Study in Continuity." Iranian Studies 7, nos. 3–4 [Studies on Isfahan: Proceedings of The Isfahan Colloquium, Part 2] (Summer–Autumn 1974), pp. 543–95, esp. pp. 566–67 n. 12. For an illustration, see Ferber 1987, p. 233, pl. 177. Another example, closer to the present one but without the foot, is a silver inlaid bronze jug dedicated to Majd al-Din ‘Isa al-Zahir (r. 1376–1404), the Artuqid ruler of Mardin, modern-day Turkey (Sotheby’s London, Thursday, April 27, 1995, lot 58).

4. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, no. 328. See Lentz and Lowry 1989, p. 144, fig. 46.

5. See ibid., pp. 277, 354. A metal pot-bellied jug with an S-shaped handle appears in the manuscript illustration "Shirin Viewing the Portrait of Khusrau" from the Khamsa of Nizami dated to A.H. 900/1494–95 A.D. (British Library and Museum, London) and is reproduced in ibid., p. 277, no. 140.

6. See Atil 1987, pp. 121–22. Also see Roxburgh 2005, p. 469.

7. Komaroff, Linda. "Timurid to Safavid Iran: Continuity and Change." Marsyas 20 (1979–80), pp. 11–16, pls. 9–12, esp. p. 13. Komaroff suggests that the appearance of the same verse on several coins and one seal datable to the reign of Shah Isma‘il I (1501–24), the founder of the Safavid dynasty, places this jug firmly in the early Safavid period, that is, in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. See also Melikian-Chirvani 1974,(footnote 3) pp. 561–62.

8. It is important to note that ‘Ali was revered not only by the Shi‘is but also by the Sunnis.
Inscription: Around molded collar in Arabic in naskhi script:
ناد علیاً مظهر العجائبی
تجده عوناً لك في النوائبي
کل هم و غم سینجلي
بولایتك یا علي یا علي یا علي
Call upon ‘Ali, the revealer of miracles made manifest,
You will find him a comfort to you in times of misfortune
All grief and sorrows will disappear through your
O ‘Ali, O ‘Ali, O ‘Ali
Edward C. Moore (American, New York 1827–1891 New York), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A King's Book of Kings: Persian Miniatures from Shah Tahmasp's Shahnama of 1528," May 4, 1972–December 31, 1972, no catalog.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 34, ill. p. 34 (b/w).

Atil, Esin. The Age of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Washington, DC: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987. pp. 121–22.

Ferber, Linda. The Collector's Eye: The Ernest Erickson Collections at the Brooklyn Museum. New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1987. p. 233, ill. pl. 177.

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 89, ill. fig. 68 (color).

Lentz, Thomas W., and Glenn D. Lowry. "Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century." In Timur and the Princely Vision. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989. pp. 154, 277, 354.

Komaroff, Linda. The Golden Disk of Heaven: Metalwork of Timurid Iran. Costa Mesa, CA, 1992. pp. 115, 116,124,156–59, 166–68.

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 322, ill. fig. 26 (color).

Roxburgh, David J., ed. Turks: Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600. London, New York: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005. pp. 423–24, 469.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 132, pp. 171, 194-195, ill. p. 194 (color).

Canby, Sheila R. The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp: The Persian Book of Kings. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 22, ill. fig. 1 (color).

Related Objects

"Farhad Carves a Milk Channel for Shirin", Folio 74 from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami

Artist: Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217) Date: A.H. 931/A.D. 1524–25 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Gallery 455

"The Eavesdropper", Folio 47r from a Haft Paikar (Seven Portraits) of the Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami

Artist: Maulana Azhar (d. 1475/76) Date: ca. 1430 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Not on view

"Sakyamuni (Buddha) Announces Another Prophet", Folio from a Majma al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Histories)

Artist: Hafiz-i Abru (d. 1430) Date: ca. 1425 Medium: Opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Gallery 455

"Muhammad's Call to Prophecy and the First Revelation", Folio from a Majma' al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Histories)

Artist: Hafiz-i Abru (d. 1430) Date: ca. 1425 Medium: Opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Gallery 455

"Bahram Gur in the Green Palace on Monday", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami

Artist: Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217) Date: A.H. 931/A.D. 1524–25 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Gallery 455