Name of Object:

Filter for a water-jar


Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow Museums

About Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow Museums, Glasgow

Date of Object:

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

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Unglazed earthenware; turned and incised.


Height 3.5 cm, diameter 7.7 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Fustat, Egypt.


A clay water-jar filter perforated with Arabic calligraphic decoration that originates from Fustat, the old capital of Egypt. The filter once sealed the mouth of a small water-jar without a handle; functioning as a lid to protect the contents of the jar from, for example, flies, insects and dust. Neither the jar or its filter are glazed, allowing the water inside the porous body to evaporate a little, thus helping to keep the water in the jar cool. The incised calligraphy that pierces right through the base of the filter is a repetition of the two letters Alif (A) and Lam (L). They are written here in kufic script, a style named after the city of Kufa in Iraq. The kufic style is characterised by its geometrical shapes and decoration on the ends of the elongated parts of the words (see the vertical tips of the letters here). Calligraphy was not the only decorative device used to embellish such vessels: animals, geometric patterning and floral designs were also employed. No two vessels appear to be identical, despite the frequent use of animals such as elephants, hares and birds.

View Short Description

Arabic calligraphy has been employed to decorate many objects in the Islamic world, from the commonplace, like this Fatimid water-jar filter, to the special, such as that found inlaid on metalwares. Such filters were decorated individually, whereby no two identical ones have been found.

How date and origin were established:

Artistic analysis: many examples of this type of water-filter have been found during archaeological excavations at Fustat.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased by Glasgow Museums in 1919.

Selected bibliography:

Allan, J. W., Islamic Inscriptions, Edinburgh, 1998.

Grube, E. J., Islamic Pottery of the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century in the Keir Collection, London, 1976.

Kuhnel, E., Islamic Arts, London, 1970.

Scanlon, G. T., 'The Pits of Fustat: Problems of Chronology', Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, no. 60, 1974.

Citation of this web page:

Noorah Al-Gailani "Filter for a water-jar" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;uk;Mus04;20;en

Prepared by: Noorah Al-GailaniNoorah Al-Gailani

Noorah Al-Gailani is Curator for Islamic Civilisations at Glasgow Museums, Scotland. With a BA in Interior Design from the College of Fine Arts, Baghdad University and three years' experience in design and folk art preservation, she moved to the UK in 1992. On completing her MA in Museum Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London in 1994, she worked as Project Officer at the Grange Museum of Community History documenting the presence of Muslim communities in the London Borough of Brent. In 1995 she was Assistant Curator, Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, and in 1996 became Curator for John Wesley's House and the Museum of Methodism in London. She co-authored The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories and Celebrations (Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 2002) for non-Muslim children. Since 2003 she has been based at The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, working across the city's museums to interpret Islamic art and culture, ancient and modern, through research, exhibitions and educational activities.

Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: UK4 25


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period


On display in

Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

Arabic Calligraphy | Kufic Script

MWNF Galleries

Calligraphy Ceramics


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