Fatimid Rock Crystal

Frizz’ Tagged F: Fatimid Rock Crystal 

This 11th century Fatimid rock crystal ewer  was acquired in 2008 for over £3 million for the Keir Collection in the Pergamon Museum. The mount in Italian gold and enamel was completed in April 1854 .

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The carving on the crystal was flawless, the thickness of the wall was only .07 to 0.8 inches. A thousand years later, we still don’t know exactly how objects were made, but we do know that the maker had to be extremely careful not to make the crystal crack as carving the delicate surface decoration. Besides, the object had to be polished inside and out to create a glass-like appearance. My heart was beating fast when I was standing in front of this rare treasure.

Perhaps the most famous Fatimid Rock Crystal is in the San Marco, Venice. It was made between 1000 and 1050 (about 5 inches in diameter). The handle was cut from the same piece of crystal as the body:

rock crystal san marco

–Image from V&A’s Collections

Of the very few rock crystal objects extant today (180 in total), only a few can be securely dated back to the Fatimid period. They are considered among the rarest and most valuable objects in the entire sphere of Islamic art.

Notes:

  • The purest crystals were imported from Basra, Yemen and the islands around the East African Coast.
  • The Islamic caliphate in Cairo  (909 – 1171) was at its high of the Fatimid dynasty, ruling over North Africa, Egypt and Syria. It was when great mosques and splendid palaces were reached its peak time.
  • For two centuries, under the Fatimid regime, Egypt was the center place to trade spices, silks, metals, and ivory with timber, furs, etc.

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