The Vaso Vescovali

From Khurasan, possibly Herat (modern Afghanistan), around AD 1200

A lidded bowl of high tin bronze, engraved and inlaid with silver

High tin bronze vessels were valued throughout the Islamic world for their golden colour. Unlike ordinary brass or bronze vessels, their high level of tin enabled them to be used for food and drink without fear of contamination from verdigris, a poisonous green patina which can develop on copper alloys such as bronze.

This bowl is decorated with complex astrological imagery. Twelve roundels around the bowl each contain the personification of a planet with the sign of the zodiac representing its day or night house. The figure drawing water from a well is Saturn in his night house Aquarius. The figure riding a ram is Mars in his night house Aries. The eight roundels on the lid contain personifications of the planets, including the dragon Jawzahr who represents the lunar eclipse. Each figure has six arms with which to carry the emblems of their magical influences. Multi-armed figures are not usual in the Islamic world and may be an influence from Indian iconography.

The lid was not originally matched with the bowl and has been hammered in around the rim to give a closer fit which gives the vessel a cinched appearance.

It was described as the Vaso Vescovali when it was originally published by Michelangelo Lanci (Trattato delle simboliche rappresentanze Arabiche, Paris, 1845-46) with the implication that it belonged to the Vescovali family at that time. It was only acquired by The British Museum in 1950.

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The Vaso Vescovali

  • View from above

    View from above


More information


R. Ward, Islamic metalwork (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

T. Richard Blurton (ed.), The enduring image: treasures, exh. cat (British Council, 1997)


Height: 21.500 cm

Museum number

ME OA 1950.7-25.1



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