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Name of Object:
Kohl jarHolding Museum:
National Archaeological MuseumMuseum Inventory Number:
Height 9.5 cm, width 8.2 cmMaterial(s) / Technique(s):
Carved rock-crystal.Date of the object:
Hegira 327–400 / AD 939–1010Period / Dynasty:
Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.Description:
Small, lenticular rock-crystal bottle, broken at the top and the bottom. Its high-relief decoration is divided into different sections. At the top there is a strip inscribed in florid kufic script that reads 'Baraka min Allah / wa lahu al-afiya' (The blessing of God) on both sides. The next section depicts two birds of prey, presumably falcons, facing one another around a vegetal composition in the form of volutes.How object was obtained:
As is common in this type of piece, this jar has a 'bore' (central cylindrical hole) that would almost certainly have been used to keep kohl or antimony chloride, which was used as a cosmetic. This jar would have been mounted on some sort of support and would also have had a glass rod used to dip into the substances and apply it.
The production of colourless quartz rock-crystal provided a level of transparency that medieval craftsmen had not yet achieved using glass. This, combined with the difficulty of the technique, meant that this craftwork was always sought after. Objects made of this material were sometimes offered as diplomatic gifts.
There is no evidence of the production of such objects in al-Andalus, and their presence on the Iberian Peninsula in the AH 4th and 5th / AD 10th and 11th centuries was undoubtedly due to trade with Fatimid Egypt. Many of the Islamic rock-crystal pieces that came to the Caliphate of Córdoba from the East were dispersed subsequently around the Iberian Peninsula and reused during the Christian age, embellished with new and sumptuous precious-metal elements.
The piece was deposited with the National Archaeological Museum by the Artistic Recuperation Service on 21 November 1910.How date and origin were established:
The rock-crystal industry in Fatimid Egypt grew up a short time before 254 / 868 and survived until 452–4 / 1060–2. Most researchers agree on the Egyptian origin of the approximately 180 objects from this era that are held around the world, as well as on Kurt Erdman's method of classifying them purely on the basis of stylistic analysis.How provenance was established:
According to its file, this jar came from Alcalá de Henares. There are currently 40 rock-crystal pieces in Spain, including various different bottles and chess pieces (there is another Fatimid piece in this material in the general inventory of the National Archaeological Museum). Most of them, having been acquired during the Reconquest in the form of taxes or war booty, were deposited in churches or monasteries in various different regions of Christian Spain as offerings.Selected bibliography:
Camón Aznar, J. “Las Piezas de Cristal de Roca y Arte Fatimí Encontradas en España”, Al-Andalus, 4, 1939, pp.396–405.Citation of this web page:
Casamar, M., Valdés, F. 'Les objects égyptiens en cristal de roche dans al-Andalus, éléments pour une réflexion archéologique', L' Egypte fatimide, son art et son histoire, Paris, 1999.
Erdman, K. “Fatimid Rock Crystal”, Oriental Art, 3, 1951, pp.142–6.
El Esplendor de los Omeyas Cordobeses, Catalogue of the Madinat al-Zahra exhibition, Granada, 2001, p.82.
Zozaya, J. “Importaciones Casuales en al-Andalus”, in Actas IV del Congreso de Arqueología Medieval Española, Vol. I, Alicante, 1993, p.125.
Margarita Sánchez Llorente "Kohl jar" in Discover Islamic Art. Place: Museum With No Frontiers, 2014. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;es;Mus01;16;en
Prepared by: Margarita Sánchez Llorente
Copyedited by: Rosalía Aller
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: SP 28