Although the development from the pre-Islamic
period to the middle of the ninth century is very
recognizable in architecture, including works in
stone, plaster and wood, it becomes quite
blurred on other media such as metalwork and
pottery. Between the 5th and the 8th century
glass production seems unchanged, although the
surviving objects would still point to an industry
that persisted and thrived, almost careless of
the political and religious turmoils of the
Ummayad era, including the death of the
prophet Muhammad. Perhaps, the diffusion of
glass-blowing and the consequent paucity of
high quality glass after the crumbling of the
Roman Empire temporarily diverted the rulers'
sponsorship of glassmaking, yet during this
period glass became more accessible for
mundane use and thus, by loosing its status
value, possibly less attractive to affluent patrons.
At any rates, late Roman glass made along the
coasts of modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel and
(that is usually classified as 'eastern
Mediterranean”) kept on being produced during
the early Islamic period. One of its persistent
features is represented by the decoration with
applied trails that could be pulled either from
the same glass batch or from a different one.
Applied trails were also used functionally as
handles and feet; commonly the thread was
patterned in zigzags or simple spirals. When
trails of the same colour were used, they were
manipulated with a pointed tool or a fine pincher
after they were applied to the vessel.
While weathering due to burial often prevents a
full appreciation of the chromatic as well as the
sculptural appeal of a many glass vessels, others,
like this one, have survived in excellent
conditions and still convey a playful charm.
Plastic decoration also included patches of glass
of different shapes applied at regular intervals to
the surface of the vessel. Globular bottles and
vases, small flasks and ewers were the favoured
shapes during the proto-Islamic period. The
decorative patches took either regular circular
forms (discs, roundels, ovals) or irregular
geometrical shapes (triangles, six-pointed star,
composite figures) that have sometimes been
interpreted as animal hides or masks. The
majority of such vessels were decorated with
patches of the same colour since the shape and
distribution on the surface would be sufficient to
emphasize the ornamental pattern.
This small translucent pale green glass bottle
features a narrow flared neck pulled from the
almost spherical body to which a small handle is
attached. A ring was applied at the base to form
the foot, and on the shoulder. The body is
decorated with four applied discs,
a type of decoration consistent to small globular
bottles with either a relatively large mouth or a
small narrow neck.
Globular bottles or jugs such as this one, which
never exceeded a height of 10 cm, were more
common than cylindrical flasks. The presence of
a coiled handle would suggest its use as a
pouring vessel for liquids rather than a sprinkler.
Such decorated vessels were once dated
exclusively to the pre-Islamic period. However,
a dating to the proto-islamic period (7th -8th
century) seems more appropriate, since these
objects do not have an immediate parallel with
known late Roman pieces. On the other hand
they were certainly produced before the
codification of shapes and decorative patterns
that occurred in the 9th century.
For comparable examples see, S. Carboni, Glass
from Islamic Lands, 2001: pp.26-27, pl.5a and
LO. 900: Small bottle, free-blown green glass
applied and trailed decoration. The globular body
has a short opening neck and a small bent handle
which is attached to the shoulder and the neck
has a small thumb-piece on top; it rests on an
attached ring and has a pontil mark. The body
four applied discs in relief and a trailed band
the base of the shoulder.
Syria or Palestine, 7th – 8th century.
Ht. 7cm; Top diam. 1.7cm; Base diam. 3cm.
Comparative material: Carboni, cat.no.1.6b,
LNS 376 G, p.40, but with trailed decoration only.
Prof. Geza Fehervari