Thursday Travel: Fatimid Rock Crystal

Of the very few rock crystal objects extant today (180 in total), only a few can be securely dated back to the Fatimid period (969-1171). They are considered among the rarest and most valuable objects in the entire sphere of Islāmic art.

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This ewer, or jug was made from a single piece of rock crystal which was carefully hollowed out, carved and polished.

This is how it was described by V&A Museum:

When the ewer was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1862 it was thought to be Byzantine (that is, made in the Eastern Roman Empire, in this case between AD 900 and 1100) but was later linked to a group of rock crystal objects made in Egypt in the Fatimid period (969-1171).

Creating a ewer like this from raw rock crystal was a delicate operation requiring great skill. The body of the ewer is very thin (less than two milimetres thick on the undecorated part), making it very clear and light. We don’t know exactly how objects like this were made but it is likely that the rough shape was first picked out using a saw and small hammer.

Another Fatimid Rock Crystal I saw was in the Pergamon Museum. I did a post back in March, 2013:

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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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.

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.

 

18 thoughts on “Thursday Travel: Fatimid Rock Crystal

    • Thank you, Dr. Hb for letting me know that they are still making ewers out of rock. How the craftsman carved the complicated patterns in such a detail on a thin small crystal ewer is beyond my imagination… Thank you for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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