Name of Object:



London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Victoria and Albert Museum

About Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Date of Object:

About hegira 391–452 / AD 1000–1060

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved rock-crystal.


Height 19.4 cm, diameter (of base) 9 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Probably Cairo, Egypt.


A ewer carved from a single piece of rock-crystal. It has a pear-shaped body, beaked rim, and slightly splayed foot; a handle, which originally had a vertical thumb-piece at its apex, joins the rim to the lower part of the body. The body of the ewer is decorated on either side with identical scenes of a bird of prey attacking a four-legged animal with horns (a gazelle?). These vignettes are framed by large, leafy arabesque motifs. The whole design is contained within a delicate raised band which goes around the neck and down the body of the ewer on either side of the handle. This band acts as a frame and gives the design the feel of a textile wrapped around the ewer’s body. All of the details are drilled and cut with great skill, including the texturing in the form of lines and dots covering the bird and animal and the leaves of the arabesque patterns. Objects like this ewer were among the thousands of precious items looted from the Fatimid treasury during the unrest of 450 AH / AD 1060. A number of these made their way to Europe, where they were used as reliquaries in church treasuries.

View Short Description

A pear-shaped ewer carved from a single block of the clear, colourless quartz known as rock-crystal. It is one of a number of luxury wares carved from rock-crystal for the Fatimid court in Cairo. Many such objects made their way into European church treasuries, where they were used as reliquaries.

How date and origin were established:

There is a clear relationship between this ewer and a group of others in European collections, one of which has an inscription naming the Fatimid Caliph al-‘Aziz (r. AH 365–86 / AD 975–96). The decoration on the V&A ewer, including the arabesque pattern, is more complex and mature than is that on the others, suggesting a later date. Finally, Fatimid rock-crystal production was severely disrupted when violent social upheavals began in AH 452 / AD 1061.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased by the Museum in 1862.

How provenance was established:

Cairo was the Fatimid capital and thus the likeliest place that an object of such quality would have been made.

Selected bibliography:

Contadini, A., Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1998, pp.16–38.

Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, pp.94–5.

Citation of this web page:

Barry Wood "Ewer" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;uk;Mus02;1;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 01


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