Name of Object:



London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

The British Museum

About The British Museum, London

Date of Object:

Hegira 4th–5th century / AD 10th–11th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved rock-crystal with silver mount.


Height 14.98 cm

Period / Dynasty:





A small cylindrical rock-crystal bottle, narrowing at the foot, with a silver mount. Carved with angular bevelled incisions on the sides is an abstract design, resembling a stylised leaf form. Rock-crystal is the purest kind of quartz and was particularly popular during the Fatimid period. The historian al-Maqrizi (AH 766–845 / AD 1364-1442) recounts that amongst the treasures of the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt were: '17,000 boxes, each one containing rock-crystal either decorated in relief, or plain'. It was also highly prized in Europe. Many of the surviving pieces of Islamic rock-crystal can be found in church treasuries in Europe where they were adapted for liturgical purposes, such as reliquaries. The silver mount on this object would have been added when the object reached Europe.

View Short Description

Rock-crystal was highly valued during the Fatimid period but also sought after in Europe. Many rock-crystal objects made during the Fatimid period were later acquired by church treasuries, and often adapted for reliquaries.

How date and origin were established:

Church inventories record pieces of rock-crystal arriving in Europe from Islamic countries by the second half of the 4th / 10th century. Although not identical in style, this bottle can be associated with a carved rock-crystal ewer in the treasury of San Marco, Venice, which bears the name of the Fatimid Caliph al-'Aziz (r. 365–86 / 975–86).

How Object was obtained:

Acquired by the British Museum in 1894.

How provenance was established:

That carved rock-crystal was fostered by Fatimid patrons in Egypt, probably in the capital Cairo, is proven by the existence of a few dated objects together with descriptions of the court treasuries.

Selected bibliography:

Contadini, A. Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1998, pp.26–36.

Citation of this web page:

Emily Shovelton "Bottle" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;uk;Mus01;5;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 08


 Artistic Introduction

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Islamic Dynasties / Period


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