Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Stained, or Luster–Painted Glass from Islamic Lands

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Painted glass objects were decorated with a brush or a pen once their final shape had been attained. After being painted, they were fired in a kiln at temperatures that permanently fixed the designs on the surface without compromising the object's shape.


Stained (or luster-painted) glass was produced in Egypt and Syria from the seventh through the ninth century. It was painted with pigments containing silver and/or copper and fired in a kiln at a low temperature. Glass thus treated cannot really be considered lustrous, because the pigment was "absorbed" beneath the surface through a chemical reaction and permanently colored—or stained—the glass, becoming part of its atomic structure.


Proper control of firing time and temperature are critical to achieve the desired results; even today this aspect remains one of the most challenging in the production of stained glass.

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Cited Works of Art or Images (4)

  • Bowl
  • Bowl
  • Cup
  • Drinking Horn

Index Terms (5)

Geography/Place

Material and Technique

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Most stained objects are in pale-colored glass decorated in a monochrome brownish or yellowish pigment; there was a brief period when colored glass or colored decorative patterns were favored before the monochrome style regained its appeal. Silver-based paints first turn yellow, then progressively amber and deep brown; copper-based pigments quickly become red or ruby-colored, but their firing is difficult to control in a kiln (silver was often added for this reason). Yellow and orange stains can also be obtained from both silver and copper. By applying pigments to both sides of open-shaped vessels, glassmakers highlight details or outlines and exploit the transparent glass wall to create subtle shading effects. Proper control of firing time and temperature are critical to achieve the desired results; even today this aspect remains one of the most challenging in the production of stained glass.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bowl, 9th century
Egypt
Glass, stained; H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm), Diam. at rim 6 1/4 in. (15.8 cm)
The Corning Museum of Glass (99.1.1)

The interplay of color and light on this bowl make it an extraordinary stained-glass object. Under reflected light, the surface appears brown with decorative motifs highlighted in varied colors; under transmitted light, it comes to life and the colors glow. The composition and motifs on the bowl are derived from late antiquity and find parallels in Roman marine mosaics.

Bowl, 9th century
Egypt
Glass, stained; H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm), Diam. at rim 6 1/4 in. (15.8 cm)
The Corning Museum of Glass (99.1.1)

The interplay of color and light on this bowl make it an extraordinary stained-glass object. Under reflected light, the surface appears brown with decorative motifs highlighted in varied colors; under transmitted light, it comes to life and the colors glow. The composition and motifs on the bowl are derived from late antiquity and find parallels in Roman marine mosaics.

Cup, 8th century (perhaps 170 A.H./786–787 A.D.)
Syria (Damascus)
Glass, stained; H. 4 in. (10 cm), Max. Diam. 5 1/4 in. (13.2 cm)
Inscribed (in flowing, barely angular kufic script, below rim): "In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate. Blessing from Allah on the person who drinks from this cup. That which was made in Damascus at the hands of Sunbat[?] in the year 1[?]"
The Corning Museum of Glass (69.1.1)

This cup is especially significant as it is one of three known pieces in the stained technique that includes a place or a date of origin in the inscription. The date could be either 107 or 170 A.H.; the latter, the equivalent of 786–87 A.D., is more likely.

Drinking horn, 8th–9th century
Probably Egypt
Glass, stained; L. 8 1/2 in. (21.5 cm), Diam. at rim 2 3/8 in. (5.9 cm)
The Corning Museum of Glass (69.1.4)

From the first to the seventh century A.D., in both the Roman and the Sasanian cultures, vessels in the form of animal horns were used for drinking purposes. This shape was not popular in the Islamic world except for carved ivory objects imported from southern Italy, which were mostly used as ceremonial hunting horns. The trilobed vegetal designs on this vessel are reminiscent of late seventh- and early eighth-century Islamic motifs.