Ewer

Ewer

Ewer
1000-1050
Carved rock crystal
Cairo, Egypt
Height 19.5 cm x diameter 9 cm (of base)
Museum No. 7904-1862

This rock crystal ewer is one of only six that survived in princely collections and church treasuries in Italy and France. Originally, though, these high-quality rock crystal objects had been made for the Fatimid caliphs who ruled Egypt between 969 and 1171. Their names and those of high officials appear in Arabic inscriptions on some examples. By the 1060s, many thousands of rock crystals had been accumulated in the Fatimid treasury in Cairo, but then there was a financial crisis, and the caliph's troops raided his treasury. The soldiers sold their loot on the market, and some was bought eagerly by merchants from Europe, where nothing like the rock crystals had been seen.

Great skill was required to hollow out the transparent, crystalline stone without breaking it, and to carve the delicate decoration. In some places, the rock crystal is barely more than a millimetre thick. The shape and decoration are related to those of Islamic ewers made in precious metal and cut glass, and in its original state the rock crystal ewer probably had gold or silver mounts. The motif of a bird of prey attacking an antelope, which had long been used to symbolize royal power, occurs on both sides of the body and is framed by a scrollwork arranged as a tree and set with stylized leaves.