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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection 4 : Terracotta Aquamanile in the Shape of a Bird
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Terracotta Aquamanile in the Shape of a Bird - PF.7004
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 900 AD to 1100 AD
Dimensions: 6" (15.2cm) high x 7" (17.8cm) wide
Collection: Islamic Art
Medium: Terracotta

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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Aquamanile in the shape of an anthropomorfised composite creature, possible depicting the legendary buraq, made of red earthenware, the entire body covered with a white slip on which the decoration was painted in brown red. The body of the fantastic steed is used as the container, while the tail, with a wide and lobed opening was used as a filling hole. There is a tiny opening on the mouth which was the spout. Between the tail and the neck, a slightly bent transverse handle with applied knobs at each end. The painted decoration on the sides features dotted circles and elongated shapes, the face carefully portrayed with a prominent nose and large eyes. The decoration and its fabric would betray Central Asian connections and therefore the attribution to Central Asia seems to be ascertained.

Zoomorphic vessels indeed , whether functional or decorative, have played a significant role in the early cultures of ancient Central Asia, especially Iran, where such objects, both in metal and pottery were continuously present right up to the Qajar period.

In this case the possible referece to the buraq, prophet Muhammad's legendary steed would seem to confirm its Islamic provenance. In the Islamic tradition, the buraq was 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 (as in the case of this aquamanile) 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. - (PF.7004)


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