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The antique origin of islamic ewers

Islam is a culture that has given and continues to give great importance to tradition. Not only religious rites but also the objects in use today have their roots deep in history. A clear testimony to this is the ewer below that, besides being made at the beginning of the 20th century in the ancient Mamluk-era style, belongs to a very long tradition that dates back to the origins of Islam and reaches to the present day.

Mamluk-revival ewer, early 20th century

As often happens, it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of a culture. The first Islamic artistic productions belong to the Umayyad dynasty. It was during this dynasty that one of Islam’s most important buildings was constructed, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (source: Wikipedia)

However, in addition to architectural productions, other artistic testimonies from this dynasty have also reached us. One of the most important is this ewer preserved at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, which is possibly related to Marwan Ibn Mohamed, the last Umayyad caliph.

Ewer related to Marwan Ibn Mohamed, Egypt – Umayyad, 7th-8th A.D century,
credits: Discover Islamic Art

This ewer, on one hand, displays elements that would be widely developed by subsequent Islamic art, such as crescent-shaped arches, but on the other, it shows deep connections with other cultures, particularly in the style of decorations that recall Byzantine art.

Ewer related to Marwan Ibn Mohamed (detail), Egypt – Umayyad, 7th-8th A.D century,
credits: Discover Islamic Art

Yet, the most famous and interesting part of this bronze piece is undoubtedly the large rooster in full cry positioned on the spout of the ewer, realized with incredible realism that, in turn, evokes the style of ancient Roman art. Not only in sculpture but also in painting and mosaics, the Romans displayed great attention to the naturalistic rendition of the animal world. One of the most beautiful examples is this mosaic with doves from the 2nd century BC, preserved at the Musei Capitolini in Rome.

Mosaic of the Doves, From an original of 2nd century BC, Rome, Musei Capitolini

However, the 20th century Mamluk-revival ewer mentioned earlier in this article, clearly belongs to a different style. The representation of animals here gives way to another characteristic of Islamic art: arabesques and, above all, calligraphy. The entire surface of the ewer, indeed, is fully decorated, as – in the same way – the Umayyad ewer was entirely decorated with crescents and floral motifs.

Once again, even what may seem like a simple modern object contains elements of a rich and distant past.

This Mamluk-revival ewer is part of our Orientalist private sale. Discover more here.

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