Ewer, 10th-11th century. Museum no. 7904-1862

Ewer, 10th-11th century. Museum no. 7904-1862

Ewer
Egypt (Fatimid)
10th-11th century.
Rock crystal
Museum no. 7904-1862

The ewer was made in Egypt about the year 1000 of the Christian era. It is a masterpiece of Islamic craft. Sophisticated techniques were required to hollow-out a massive piece of the super-hard rock crystal into a vessel whose walls are mere millimetres thick. The magical clarity achieved was prized by contemporaries as a mystical combination of the properties of air and water. Difficulties of working the surface reduced decoration to a severe simplicity. After the looting of Cairo's treasuries, the ewer found its way to Europe where it was transferred to Christian use and admired as a marvel of exotic beauty. The hunting scenes indicate its original use was secular, as part of a lost Islamic world of courtly life with wine, poetry and music. Rock crystal - like Chinese celadon - was believed to shatter on contact with poison...a comment on the fragility of beauty itself.

Stephen Bayley, Guest Curator