London, England, United Kingdom
Victoria and Albert Museum
Hegira 694 / AD 1295-6
Gilded and enamelled glass.
Height 15.3 cm, width 10.7 cm
Cairo or Damascus.
A small but heavy glass vessel made of dark purple glass, decorated with gilding and with white, red, and pale- blue enamels. The vessel's shape links it to a group of similar vessels referred to as 'spheroconical': the upper section is almost hemispherical, while the lower section tapers to a point at the base. The neck of the vessel is also tapered at its opening. The main decorative motif is a band of white calligraphy which reads, 'Glory to our lord, the sultan, the ruler, al-Ashraf Abu al-Fath ‘Umar, son of the sultan al-Malik al-Muzaffar'. Above the inscription, floral motifs alternate with circular medallions filled with coloured triangles. Below the inscription, similar floral motifs alternate with pointed circles.
Spheroconical vessels, which are more often made of ceramic than of glass, are a bit of a puzzle. Their function is unclear, and suggestions have included hand grenades, loom weights, containers for holy water, and perfume sprinklers; a recent theory has it that they were drinking vessels for a beer-like beverage called fuqqa'. This vessel belongs to a group of about 50 objects made under the Mamluks as gifts for the Rasulid sultans of Yemen, with whom the Mamluks had close diplomatic ties and trade relations. The sultan named in the inscription is al-Malik al-Ashraf ‘Umar II Ibn al-Muzaffar (r. AH 694 / AD 1295–6). The circular medallions enclosing patterns of triangles are thought by some to be a personal emblem of his, and here it is indeed used in place of the usual emblem of the Rasulids, a rosette with five petals.
A small glass vessel of ‘spheroconical’ shape and uncertain function, with enamelled decoration including an inscription band naming a certain sultan of Yemen. This is one of a group of wares known to have been made under the Mamluks for export to Yemen, possibly as diplomatic gifts.
al-Malik al-Ashraf ‘Umar II Ibn al-Muzaffar, Rasulid Sultan of Yemen
The inscription names a Rasulid Sultan of Yemen who only reigned for one year (694 / 1295–6).
Gift of Mrs Wilfred Buckley in 1936.
Cairo and Damascus were the two most important centres of art production under the Mamluks.
Buckley, W., The Art of Glass, London, 1939, no. 92.
Carboni, S., and Whitehouse, D., Glass of the Sultans, New York, 2001, pp.263–4.
Newby, M.S., "The Cavour Vase and Gilt and Enamelled Mamluk Coloured Glass", in Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East (ed. R. Ward), London, 1998, pp.35–40, fig. 10.1.
Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, pp.34–7.
Barry Wood "Sprinkler" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus02;22;en
Prepared by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK2 25
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Mamluks | The Wider World: Diplomatic Contacts and International Trade
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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