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The USA prohibits the purchase by US persons of Ir… Read more AN IMPORTANT SILVER- AND COPPER-INLAID BRASS EWER


On short splayed foot with a stylised kufic inscription, the faceted drum-shaped body decorated with two bands of stylised kufic and naskh surrounding a band of roundels depicting the signs of the zodiac, the shoulder decorated with a band of chasing hares beneath a further inscription in stylised naskh with human head terminals, the narrow neck with similar inscriptions and scrolls, each side with a pronounced tiger boss and one further to the spout, a small loss to the body, majority of silver inlay remaining
13 7/8in. (35.3cm.) high
Private Collection (by repute) since 1956, thence by descent.
Special notice
The USA prohibits the purchase by US persons of Iranian-origin “works of conventional craftsmanship” such as carpets, textiles, decorative objects, and scientific instruments. The US sanctions apply to US persons regardless of the location of the transaction or the shipping intentions of the US person. For this reason, Christie’s will not accept bids by US persons on this lot. Non-US persons wishing to import this lot into the USA are advised that they will need to apply for an OFAC licence and that this can take many months to be granted.

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Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam
Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

This ewer with its slightly widening cylindrical body, flat shoulder, cylindrical neck and sloping covered trough spout is a well known type, most of the examples of which can be attributed to Khorasan and the surrounding region. Many of this simple form have been excavated, including at Herat (Ute Franke and Martina Müller Wiener (eds), Ancient Herat 3, Herat through time, Berlin, 2016, nos.M101-M106, pp.132-133). What is probably the earliest dated example is in the museum in Tiflis, signed by Mahmud b. Muhammad al-Harawi and dated AH 577/1181 AD (Georgian National Museum, S. Janashia Museum of Georgia, inv.no.135). What is more, the relatively recent reading of the verse inscription, made for the recent Court and Cosmos exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, notes that it includes the line “This water vessel was made in Herat”. The form of this ewer, with its slightly less attenuated body, evenly shallowly rounded ribs and slightly shorter neck and spout, could point to a slightly earlier version of the design than most. The most elaborate of the entire group are three examples, in the British Museum (inv.no.1848,0805.2), the Metropolitan Museum (inv.no.44.15), and the Galerie Estense, Modena (inv.no.6921) which add prominent addorsed repoussé harpies around the shoulder and at times elsewhere, each of which is also inlaid, an extraordinary demonstration of metalworking technique. They are generally dated to the end of the 12th and early 13th century, and attributed to Herat, Khorasan and/or Afghanistan.

The vast majority of these ewers have bodies that are surrounded by vertical ribs. The present ewer, with its vertical flutes, is one of a rarer group, whose influence appeared much more obviously in Western Iran and further west as the taste for inlaid metalwork spread in that direction. The most elaborate comparable example to our ewer is one in the Louvre Museum, Paris (inv.no.OA 5548), lacking its handle, but otherwise very similar in form and also in decorative arrangement to ours. An example that is remarkably close to the Paris one, but retaining its handle, has been acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi (inv.no.2013.053). There is also a spectacular fragmentary ewer with similar band of decoration but much denser arranged and with the addition of inlaid harpies where others have repoussé versions in the al-Sabah Collection (LNS 907 M).

All the examples cited thus far, with the exception of the Tiflis ewer, have as their main band of decoration a central band of pictorial roundels depicting the signs of the zodiac, flanked by spiralling vine terminating in palmettes or occasionally animal heads. Those without the paired addorsed harpies contain this central band between two bands of inscription. The shoulder then has a band of inscription with human-headed hastae. All these elements are found on the present ewer.

There are two features in which this ewer differs from the majority of those thus far cited. The first is that the inscriptions are not fully legible here. Four panels of the lower inscription are clearly the beginnings of a classic benedictory inscription al-'izz wa al-iqbal wa al-dawla wa al-sad[a] at which point it reaches the handle. Thereafter there are forms which could be al-baqa and al-'ina[ya] but these are repeated, while the upper inscription repeats the same formula in each panel. The form of the inscription is very reminiscent, especially in the use of knotted tall stems on semi-illiterate inscription, of the ewer in the Cleveland Museum of Art (inv.no.1945.27). Of all those cited thus far that is probably the closest in design and execution to the present example, with winged running animals around the shoulder panels, and with the lower inscription more legible than the upper. The Kuwait fragmentary example already noted also shows indications of the same loops half way up the hastae, although the execution of the calligraphy is more literate than here or in Cleveland.

The other feature found here and also on the early ewers, apart from the early Tiflis example, is the use of copper inlay as a narrow fillet around the silver inlaid panels of pictorial or inscribed decoration. This is a well-known feature from other Khorasan vessels but seems to have been discarded in most of the Zodiac ewers in favour of the use of more silver. The use of copper inlay might suggest a slightly earlier date than the all-silver examples, but then the concave vertical flutes could indicate a slightly later date, as the style moves west, appearing for example in a ewer in the Victoria and Albert Museum, attributed to Western Iran circa 1220-40 (inv.381-1897). Its form is almost identical to the present ewer, although the spout is more vertical. Two further much simpler and very incomplete zodiac inlaid Iranian ewers are one sold at Sotheby’s 22 April 2015, lot 9, and one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (inv.no.91.1.530), each were dated to the first half of the 13th century.

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