The decorative technique employed on this elegant and unusual goblet, with its flat base, solid yet segmented stem, flaring cup of aquamarine or pale blue color, and Arabic inscription, is usually known as "scratched" or "engraved." Although distinctive, the goblet relates to a varied group of vessels and shards that employ the same engraved technique, which have been found east of Egypt and as far away as China. Their dating has never been questioned: archaeological finds have situated these works firmly in eighth- and ninth-century contexts because the first fragments were excavated in places like Samarra in Iraq, Fustat in Egypt, and, more recently, in the crypt of a Buddhist temple sealed in 874 A.D. in the Shaanxi province of northwestern China. While their wide distribution has puzzled scholars over the decades, a fragmentary plate in dark blue glass found in the 1930s on the site of Nishapur in eastern Iran, which for many years was regarded as the key example of the group, tipped the balance in favor of an Iranian origin. The extraordinary discovery in the 1980s of six intact plates in the Chinese temple, however, together with dozens of additional archaeological and other new finds, has forced scholars to study this material in a more systematic fashion. The present writer has suggested a Syrian or Iraqi origin for the bulk of this group (rejecting an Iranian provenance), a conclusion that has also been reached by Jens Kröger.
This goblet represents one of the most memorable demonstrations of this decorative technique due to its rare shape, enviable state of preservation, and subtle pale blue color ( 80 percent of these engraved works are made from dark blue glass). Exceptional as well is the presence of a legible inscription, "Drink! Blessings from God to the owner of the goblet." The patterns drawn within horizontal bands (from top to bottom: a saw-tooth band just below the rim; the inscription; a band of small circles enclosed in rectangular sections; and a row of diamond-shaped designs) may not be as sophisticated and precisely executed as those of many other works belonging to this group. Yet this goblet remains an outstanding example of a short-lived but sought-after production that reached the farthest corners of the Asian routes through trade and gift exchange.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. For the finds in Samarra, see Lamm 1928, pp. 79–82, nos. 251–59, figs. 51–52, pl. 8. For Fustat, see, most recently, Scanlon and Pinder-Wilson 2001, pp. 82, 83, fig. 39, pl. 39a. For China, see An 1991.
2. Also in the Metropolitan Museum (acc. no. 40.170.131).
3. Carboni 2001, pp. 76–81, no. 17; Kröger 2005.
This goblet has a bell-shaped bowl with a rounded lip. The wall curves down, in, and down in an elongated S-shaped curve. The floor is narrow. The stem, which was formed from a separate bit of glass, is solid and has five tooled constrictions. The foot is in the form of a disk with a rounded edge. There is a small pontil mark.
The bowl is decorated with four continuous horizontal bands of rather careless scratch-engraving. The uppermost band has a groundline that supports thirty-two isosceles triangles filled with transverse hatching. The second band, which has erratic upper and lower borders, contains an Arabic inscription in kufic script, with double outlines and transverse hatching. The third band is framed by borders, each consisting of two parallel lines filled with hatching. The interior is divided into seven rectangular compartments by vertical hatched borders; each compartment contains a horizontal row of four (or in one case three) hatched circles. The lowest band, also framed by borders, contains thirty-one contiguous rhomboids, each enclosing one small hatched circle; the triangles between the rhomboids and the borders are also hatched.
This bowl is similar in shape to a bowl or goblet with stained decoration excavated at Fustat that has an inscription reportedly referring to 'Abd al-Samad ibn 'Ali, a great-uncle of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who governed Egypt for one month in 773 and died in 801, and which therefore may have been made in the second half of the eighth century (Pinder-Wilson and Scanlon 1973, pp. 28–29, no. 23). Another goblet having a stem similar to the one shown here but with no decoration on the bowl was excavated at Siraf, in southwestern Iran, in 1966 (Whitehouse 1968, pl. VIla).
David Whitehouse in [Carboni and Whitehouse 2001]
Ralph H. Pinder-Wilson and George T. Scanlon. "Glass Finds from Fustat: 1964-71." Journal of Glass Studies 15 (1973), pp. 12–30.
David Whitehouse. "Excavations at Siraf: First Interim Report." Iran 6 (1968), pp. 1–22.
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in kufic script:
اشرب بركة من الله لصاحب الکأس
Drink! Blessings from God to the owner of the goblet.
[ Mohammad Yeganeh, Frankfurt, until 1965; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass Gathers: The Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibitions Gallery," May 24, 1990–March 31, 1991, no catalogue.
Corning, NY. Corning Museum of Glass. "Glass of the Sultans," May 24, 2001–September 3, 2001, no. 71.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass of the Sultans," October 2, 2001–January 13, 2002, no. 71.
Athens, Greece. Benaki Museum. "Glass of the Sultans," February 20, 2002–May 15, 2002, no. 71.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.
Scanlon, George T., and Ralph Pinder-Wilson. "Finds Excavated by the American Research Center in Egypt, 1964–1980." In Fustat Glass of the Early Islamic Period:. London.
Lamm, Carl Johan. "Forschungen zur Islamischen Kunst." In Das Glas von Samarra. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1928.
Clairmont, Christoph. "Some Islamic glass in the Metropolitan Museum." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 146, ill. fig. 8 (b/w).
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Glass: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 44, no. 2 (Fall 1986). p. 19, ill. fig. 16 (color).
Carboni, Stefano, and David Whitehouse. "The al-Sabah Collection, Kuweit National Museum." In Glass from Islamic Lands. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2001. pp. 76–81.
Carboni, Stefano, David Whitehouse, Robert H. Brill, and William Gudenrath. Glass of the Sultans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. no. 71, pp. 164-65, ill. p. 165 (color).
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. 16, p. 39, ill. p. 39 (color).