The Blacas Ewer
London, England, United Kingdom
The British Museum
Hegira 629 / AD 1232
Shuja’ ibn Mana al-Mawsili.
Brass engraved and inlaid with silver and copper.
Height 30.4 cm, width 22 cm, depth 21.5 cm
Atabeg / Ayyubid
A ewer with missing foot and spout, inlaid with silver and copper. The delicate inlay decoration covering the body and neck is exceptionally fine. A remarkable range of figurative scenes of contemporary court life is depicted in a series of medallions. The medallions are surrounded by a geometric pattern alternating with bands of inscriptions and figures. Men have covered heads and wear tunics with straight sleeves. Their costumes reflect the Turkish origin of the Zangid dynasty. The princes have ornamental tiraz bands around the sleeves of their robes. Soldiers have swords with straight blades and round buckles. Two noble women are depicted: one is shown looking in a mirror accompanied by an attendant; another is riding on a camel in a camel litter with a servant. A lute-player has the bottom of her face veiled. Other medallions depict a hunting scene with a man shooting an arrow at his prey; another hunter with a cheetah on the back of his horse; musicians, dancers and drinking revellers. There is even a scene from the Persian epic poem the Shahnama representing Bahram Gur shooting an arrow while Azadeh plays the harp on the back of his horse. Given the outstanding quality of the decoration and the scenes of courtly life the ewer was probably intended for use at court. The patron may have been Badr al-Din Lu'lu', who ruled Mosul (AH 629–59 / AD 1232–59), or a member of his court. A number of objects inscribed with his name reveal that he commissioned a number of metalwork objects. Although the technique of inlaid metalwork originated in Iran, new shapes were introduced in Mosul often inspired by Byzantine forms. Ibn Said, a Spanish Muslim, travelled all over Syria, Mesopotamia and Iraq in AH 648 / AD 1250. In his book, Geography, he mentions inlaid brass vessels made in Mosul that were exported and presented to various rulers. Therefore, Mosul metalwork with its glittering inlay had clearly gained sufficient status to compete with gold and silver.View Short Description
The craftsman of this exceptional ewer has signed his work stating he is from Mosul. Made from brass inlaid with silver, it is covered with figures performing many different activities that include playing music, drinking and hunting.
The ewer is inscribed with the date 629 (1232).
The ewer is named after the Duc de Blacas whose collection was acquired by the British Museum in 1866.
An inscription describes the craftsman as 'Shuja ibn Mana al-Mawsili' (Shuja, son of Mana of Mosul). Therefore he was from Mosul where there was an active metalwork industry in the early 7th century / 13th century.
L'Orient de Saladin au temps des Ayyoubides; exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2001, cat. no. 122, p.146.
Rice, D., "Inlaid Brasses from the Workshop of Ahmad al-Dhaki al-Mawsili", Ars Orientalis, 3, 1957, p.284–326.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, 1993, p.80–2.
Emily Shovelton "Ewer" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus01;12;en
Prepared by: Emily ShoveltonEmily Shovelton
Emily Shovelton is a historian of Islamic art. She studied history of art at Edinburgh University before completing an MA in Islamic and Indian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since graduating she has worked on a number of projects at the British Museum. Other recent work includes editing and writing for a digital database of architectural photographs at the British Library. She is currently working on a Ph.D. on “Sultanate Painting in 15th-century India and its relationship to Persian, Mamluk and Indian Painting”, to be completed at SOAS in 2006. A paper on Sultanate painting given at the Conference of European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, held in the British Museum in July 2005, is due to be published next year.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK1 15
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | War and Horsemanship Women | Muslim Women’s Costume and Jewellery
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