National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 6th century / AD 12th century
Height 99 cm, diameter 45.5 cm
Jazira (the region located between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, hence known as “the island” and currently consisting of northeast modern Syria and northwest Iraq), or Mesopotamia.
A large, unglazed but richly decorated khubb jar used for storing water. It has an oval-shaped body without a base. Most of the body's surface is decorated with a repeating pattern resembling a stylised horned animal head. The cylindrical neck and protruding lip are richly decorated with pierced carving and applied pieces of clay that were attached to the body of the jar after its basic shape was made. These include human forms in profile and in a standing posture amidst allegorical creatures and stylised foliage. A band of Arabic writing in thuluth script divides the ovoid shape of the jar between body and neck. It is possible to translate the text as follows: “[May God grant] power, prosperity, happiness, respect, bliss and advancement.”
One of the decorative scenes applied on the jar's neck may be described as follows: in the centre is a frontally oriented person who is sitting in the "Eastern" posture of worship (i.e. with his arms bent up at the elbow and palms facing the object of worship). He is framed by an overhead arch with a pair of open-jawed dragons facing each other. Beneath the dragons' claws there is a protruding knob flanked by a pair of lion-like faces whose eyes, nostrils, and ears are accentuated by pierced circles. Similar fantastical imagery continues below the seated figure. His crossed legs rest on top of two human-headed birds with young female faces, coiffed hair and elegantly decorated wings. Beneath these fantastical birds there is a pair of protruding lion heads. All these figures are placed on a background of stylised, perforated vegetal motifs.
This large water-jar with its ovoid shape, pierced carving and moulded figurative attachments is a masterpiece of the pottery industry of Jazira in the AH 5th and 6th / AD 11th and 12th centuries.
The vessel is extremely similar in size, shape, decoration and apparent use to many other pieces produced during the Atabeg and Ayyubid periods (6th / 12th and early 7th / 13th centuries) in the Jazira region.
The jar was found in Veterinarian Street (Jadat al-Bayatira) in the Aqaba Quarter of Damascus, and was purchased by the Museum in 1927.
Although this jar was found in Damascus, khubb jars were typically produced in the Jazira area, especially in the cities of Mosul, Sinjar and Tikrit.
Abu al-Faraj al-Ush, M., A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, 1969, pp.227–8.
Cluzan, S. et al (eds), Syrie: Mémoire et Civilisation, Paris, 1994.
Ettinghausen, R., Grabar, O., and Jenkins-Madina, M., Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250, New Haven, 2001, p.249.
Porter, V., Medieval Syrian Pottery, Oxford, 1981.
Soustiel, J., and Kiefer, C., La céramique islamique, Fribourg, 1985.
Watson, O., Ceramics from Islamic Lands, London, 2004.
Mona al-Moadin "Large jar" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;20;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: SY 26
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Travelling and Trading
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