Pocket timeline to Mesopotamia, £7.99
Height: 30.400 cm
ME OA 1866.12-29.61
Room 34: The Islamic world
The Blacas Ewer
From Mosul, northern Iraq, AH 629 / AD 1232
Decorated with courtly scenes
An inscription describes the craftsman as 'Shuja ibn Mana al-Mawsili' (Shuja, son of Mana of Mosul). Metalworkers in Mosul inlaid brass vessels with intricate courtly scenes in silver and copper to create glittering objects that were very popular with the local élite. They were often given as diplomatic gifts to neighbouring rulers.
The delicate decoration covering the body and neck is exceptionally fine, with a range of figurative scenes showing contemporary court life 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; 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 shown looking in a mirror accompanied by an attendant, another riding on a camel in a 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 ('Book of Kings') of Bahram Gur out hunting with Azade his favourite musician.
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. Other 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.
The ewer is named after the Duc de Blacas whose collection was acquired by The British Museum in 1866.
R. Ward, Islamic metalwork (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)