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HOME : Islamic Art : Islamic Art. L : Aquamanile in the Shape of a Bird
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Aquamanile in the Shape of a Bird - LO.852
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 8 th Century AD to 11 th Century AD
Dimensions: 11.5" (29.2cm) high x 12.5" (31.8cm) wide
Collection: Islamic Art
Medium: Red Earthenware

Location: Great Britain
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The unglazed vessel was made of buff earthenware coated with a white slip and dark brown decoration on it. It features a rising long neck with the face of an animal surmounted by convoluted antlers. To either side of the neck two hooks with free-moving rings, another on the belly and one attached to each leg and behind the bent transverse handle attached to the back of the bird. The wings were added in applique'. The geometric decoration including octagonal medallions with lines radiating from the centre as to resemble a rosette would be consistent with a Central Asian attribution.

The depiction of a composite creature with wings would make one think about the possible connection with the depiction of the buraq of Islamic tradition, a creature said to have transported the Prophet Muhammad to heaven. Described as a white animal, half-mule, half- donkey, with wings on its sides, Buraq was originally introduced into the story of Muhammad's night journey (isra') from Mecca to Jerusalem and back, thus explaining how the journey between the cities could have been completed in a single night. Sometimes mistakenly described as Muhammad's horse, the buraq was a creature described as being part eagle and horse, thus resembling a pegasus. An excerpt from a Sahih Muslim hadith describes a buraq:"I was brought by the Buraq, which is an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, who would place its hoof at a distance equal to the range of vision." In literature and art, often portrayed with the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock, the buraq is mostly visible in the sacred manuscripts, where the creativity of the artist was less hampered by religious restrictions. In both a leaf from a copy of the Bustan of Sacdi dated 1514 originally from Uzbekistan and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), and a 16th Century manuscript of Khamsa of Nizami in the British Library (London), narrating the Mi'raj, or ascension of the Prophet, Muhammad is depicted on his steed, the buraq. The artist has painted the legendary creature prancing forward as about to take a leap into the Seven Heavens, her human face depicted frontally. Comparable anthropoid depictions of the buraq are known also from many engraved metal vessels dating to the Seljuq period and possibly even on earlier zoomorphic pottery from Central Asia, such as the one here illustrated. Zoomorphic object, buff earthenware with extensive black painting; an unrecognizable animal with a strange head and body, resting on four feet, with a pair of wings and a large handle on the back, another pair of small handles are on the neck and below the head and also on the legs; each handle has a freely-moving ring. The painted decoration presents roundels with radiating lines and triangles. It has no opening. Central Asia, 7th – 9th century. Comparative material: there are several such zoomorphic objects in the Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait, cf. Fehérvári, 2000, nos.263-269, pp.203- 7. Comments: it has been suggested that this strange animal may represent the Prophet’s (PBUH) mythical horse, Buraq. That is nevertheless very unlikely since the animal’s head does not appear to be that of a horse. Furthermore, the figure of Buraq is entirely differently presented in Islamic decorative arts, cf. MTW-95. Prof. Geza Fehervari Prof. Geoffrey King - (LO.852)


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