This jug is one of the most magnificent of all enamelled and gilded glass vessels to have survived to the present day. Its richness of decoration, its great variety of coloured enamel, the precision of its drawing, the energy of the figural scenes and its remarkable state of preservation make it an outstanding work of art in any field. Its provenance, taking it back to the first half of the nineteenth century, is also remarkable, having been in three of the most renowned collections of art formed in the last two centuries.
Many aspects of the jug render it unique among Mamluk enamelled glass vessels. The shape is one which is occasionally encountered as a general form in metalwork, such as a jug made for an official under Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir Muhammad (The World of Islam, exhibition catalogue, London, 1976, no. 221, p. 192). Indeed it is probably from the metalwork form that the pronounced extruded band and the base of the neck derives, a band which here is subsequently further decorated with applied strips. One other decorated glass jug is known of this shape, a smaller blue glass example in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which is decorated entirely in gold without the use of enamels and bears the name of Sultan Salah al-Din Muhammad (1361-3), (M. Newby, 'The Cavour Vase and gilt and enamelled Mamluk coloured glass', in R. Ward (ed.), Guilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East, London, 1998, pl. 10.12, p. 170). Various other features link these two jugs. The handle is connected in the same way with the double bend at the top forming a token thumbpiece, it also joins the neck half way up the side, rather than higher up which one might expect. The glass body is very thin and the foot is formed in the same way (M. Newby, op.cit, pl. 10.13, p. 171). Most notably there are two applied vertical strips forming loops linking the band at the base of the neck with the top of the body. While they are both together, opposite the handle, they appear to have no functional purpose, and thus appear to be purely decorative.
The figural decoration
The decoration on this jug is remarkable. The quality and colours are of types which are encountered on fragments but which are not known apart from here on a complete vessel in this condition. A small number of large vessels show similar horsemen, but on clear glass grounds. A pilgrim flask in the British Museum has single horsemen on each shoulder (G. Schmoranz, op.cit., pls. XXA and XXI), as does another pilgrim flask in the Diocesan Museum in Vienna, (R. Ward (ed.), op.cit., col. pl. E). The second of these has very different minor decoration to the present jug, involving lots of fine gold decoration in the background coupled with bands of very fine naskh inscription. Closer in feel to the present figures are those on a small number of beakers. One, illustrated by C. J. Lamm (op.cit., pl. 129.3), in the Grüne Gewolbe in Dresden has very comparable figures on horseback, while another is in the Louvre which was found under the altar of the church of Santa Margarita in Orvieto (Europan und der Orient, exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1989, no. 4/54, p. 576 and col. pl. 213). A third example which was formerly in the Landesmuseum in Kassel and which was destroyed in World War II not only had a band of very similar horsemen, but placed them under a band of gold and enamel scrollwork very similar to that around the mouth here (R. Ward (ed.), op.cit., pl. 12.3). The present jug is however fuller in detail and employs more colours than all of these; in quality it is a complete level higher.
Large scale figures worked on a fully coloured ground are known on various fragments, but do not seem to have survived on any large complete vessel apart from the present one. One fragment in Berlin has what appears to be a similar figure on blue and gold scrolling ground (C. J. Lamm, op.cit., Vol. I, farbtafel D). This fragment Dr. Jens Kröger kindly informed us is however in poorer condition than Lamm's illustration would have one believe, and again the present jug is finer in detail. Further comparable figures on blue and gold scrolling grounds can be seen on two fragments in the Benaki Museum (C. W. Clairmont, Benaki Museum Catalogue of Ancient and Islamic Glass, Athens, 1977, nos. 431-2, pp. 122-3, pl. XXVI). The first of these in particular is noted as having more colours than the normal range, including the turquoise seen here in details.
The arabesque decoration
As well as the figures linking this jug to a small group of flaring beakers, the band of decoration around the mouth can also be seen on a beaker of very comparable shape formerly in the Kofler Collection and now in the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, and an almost identical one in the Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt (R. Ward (ed.), op.cit., pl. 12.1). The pilgrim flask in the British Museum already noted for the similarity of its figural decoration, has very similar work in the panels on each side (G. Schmoranz, op.cit., pl. XX). One noticeable feature of the beakers in particular is the amount of undecorated glass that is left plain to contrast with the highly decorated band. This feature is even more pronounced on a very rare bottle which was discovered in China and is now in the Royal Ontario Museum (R. Ward (ed.), op.cit., pl. 20.3). The bottle, of a remarkably flawless glass very comparable to that of the present jug, is left completely plain save for two bands of decoration similar to that around the mouth here. The present jug in the same way as these beakers and bottle leaves the underside completely plain. This probably was also a sensible practical precaution to show what was in the vessel!
All the pieces which have features that compare with the present jug noted above can be dated to the second half of the 13th Century. One of the easiest to date is the flask in Vienna which can be dated to this period from its documented date of arrival in Austria. The beakers of flaring form fit, according to Summer Kenesson, into the period between the start of the reign of Baybars and the end of that of Al-Nasir Muhammad (1260-1341), (S. Kenesson, 'Islamic Enamelled beakers, a new Chronology', in R. Ward (ed.), op.cit., pp. 45-9). The bottle from China now in the Toronto Museum has been linked by Peter Hardie to the period of Muslim settlement in China and the appointment of Muslims to prominent political roles between 1229 and 1368, with a highpoint in the years before 1282 (P. Hardie, 'Mamluk Glass from China?', in R. Ward (ed.), op.cit., p. 85). The date of this jug can thus confidently be placed in the second half of the 13th Century.
A compositional analysis on the clear glass body and on the white enamel of this jug, performed by Dr Julian Henderson of the University of Nottingham, is consistent with samples from other known enamelled glass vessels of the period.
The full sequence of provenance from Rothschild back to the Dukes of Hamilton and William Beckford is published here for the first time. Even though Christie's catalogue for the legendary Hamilton Palace Sale of 1882 ('the most important art sale ever held in the country', The Times, March, 1882) did record the previous Beckford ownership for some of the lots that came from his collection it was by no means comprehensive in doing so and Beckford's ownership of this jug was not included in their description of lot 857 (vide supra). Christie's cataloguer relied heavily and indeed copied almost verbatim A. W. Franks's description of the piece in the celebrated 1862 loan exhibition (vide supra) where the Beckford provenance is also unrecorded. The omission continued in the important books on Islamic glass by G. Schmoranz in 1899 (op.cit.) and C. J. Lamm in 1929-30 (op.cit.), who both note the Hamilton provenance but also fail to record the earlier Beckford connection of which they were presumably unaware.
The one 'document' that establishes William Beckford as the first known link in the chain of provenance is Objects of Vertu No. 3 painted by Willes Maddox in circa 1844. It is one of possibly five still life paintings commissioned by Beckford very near the end of his life when he lived in Lansdown Tower in Bath as a record of some of the more important works of art in his collection at that time. Only three of these paintings are known to have survived and are now in the Beckford Tower Trust Collection. They were lithographically reproduced, shortly after Beckford's death in May 1844, in E. F. English & W. Maddox, Illustrations...(op.cit.).
The earlier provenance of the objects illustrated in the Maddox paintings, including details of when, from whom and for how much each piece was acquired, is in practically every case undocumented and unknown. It is tempting to suggest that all of the objects were with Beckford in the almost magical environment of the romantic Gothic mansion of Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire before 1822, the year he left his and Wyatt's visionary but flawed creation and moved to Lansdown Tower in Bath, taking with him those objects dearest to his heart as a collector while leaving much else behind to be sold at auction. However, just how many of the Maddox objects were originally at Fonthill Abbey is not known. A large number of them, including the jug, are not to be found in any of the contemporary descriptions of Fonthill Abbey and its contents by J. Storer (1812), J. Rutter (1822 and 1823) and J. Britton (1823), but these do not contain definitive or comprehensive listings of the whole collection at Fonthill Abbey so a presence there cannot be discounted by reference to these accounts alone. The jug was not included in the Fonthill Abbey house sales of 1822-3, at which Beckford is known to have 'bought back' certain pieces, or indeed in any of the Beckford-related sales that took place between 1801-48. Beckford is known to have continued collecting while living at Lansdown Tower, albeit on a more modest and less indulgent scale than that of earlier years, and some of the objects in the Maddox still life paintings could have been bought at that time. In 1822 Chevalier Gregorio Franchi, Beckford's friend and agent, compiled packing lists of the objects taken from Fonthill Abbey to Lansdown Tower. Not all of Franchi's lists survive and the descriptions in those that do are often too brief and imprecise to make any secure indentification. The likelihood of the jug being originally at Fonthill Abbey is strong because most of Beckford's fevered, energetc and voracious buying in France, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere, for his collection was done at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th Centuries. The jug is more probably a purchase at that time when the young William Bedkford had more than ample funds to finance the pursuit and acquisition of works of art than at the time when he was at Lansdown Tower when energy and money were not to be had in quite such plentiful supply. Either way precisely when Beckford acquired the jug remains uncertain. The only certainty, in fact, is that the Maddox still life remains the one sure and reliable document which gives us, at the very least, 1844 as the earliest fixed date in the line of provenance.
It is not surprising that this remarkable piece should have captured Beckford's attention. An interest in the Near East and its decorative motifs was with Beckford from an early age. In Fonthill Splendens, the house built by his father Alderman and later demolished as the Abbey was built, there was a Turkish Room 'as splendid and sumptuous as those magical recesses of enchanted palaces we read of in the Arabian Nights Entertainments. The ground of the vaulted ceiling is entirely gold upon which the most beautiful arabesques and wreathes of flowers are delineated' (J. Britton, The Beauties of Wiltshire, 1801, Vol. I, pp. 212-13). Beckford's rambling novel Vathek, first published in 1786, is imbued with an arabic spirit as are many pieces of silver and other artefacts made specially for Fonthill Abbey which are embellished with arabesques and other decorative motifs that show a love and appreciation for a distant and exotic culture.
After Beckford's death in 1844 certain objects were the subject of specific bequests to his son-in-law the 10th Duke of Hamilton and to his grandson and godson the future 11th Duke of Hamilton. However, the majority, including this jug, were part of the general inheritance passing to his daughter Susan Euphemia and by virtue of her marriage to the 10th Duke into the Hamilton collections. The jug may be the 'Babylonian Vase' described in the List of Pictures...(op.cit.) in the Hamilton Archive but the description is too brief to be certain. Against the description is a later pencil addition 'x - given to the Duke Sale 1852', the meaning of which is unclear. The 10th Duke died in 1852 and the notation may indicate a private sale from the entailed Hamilton collection to the 11th Duke's personal collection. G. Reitlinger, (op.cit.), states that the jug was originally purchased by the 11th Duke for £70 but gives no source for this information or any details as to the circumstances and date of the alleged transaction. In any event, the jug remained in the Hamilton collection until sold by Christie's in 1882.
The context of the 1882 Hamilton Palace Sale and a comparison with the prices paid for other lots show just how much the jug must have been admired at the time, for the price of £2,730 paid by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild was one of the highest if not the most significant, in an auction full of treasures attracting extraordinary prices throughout. Just how spectacular the price of the jug was is illustrated by the fact that out of a sale total of 2,213 lots only 21 commanded a higher price, namely five paintings by Hobbema, Rubens, Botticelli, Signorelli and Velazquez, a miniature of James I by Hilliard, fourteen pieces of mainly Royal French Furniture by Riesener, Leleu, Levasseur and others, and a 16th Century silver-gilt cup and cover by Roemer.
There can be few provenances that bestride the 19th Century which possess quite the same romance or sense of excellence as that conjured up by a combination of the names of Beckford, Hamilton and Rothschild (a combination, incidentally shared by the Royal Louis XVI commode by Riesener sold by Christie's on 8 July 1999, lot 201). William Beckford's construction of Fonthill Abbey, the 10th Duke of Hamilton's rebuilding of Hamilton Palace and the Rothschild family's building and/or development of over 60 châteaux and houses throughout Europe show a shared interest in the creation of grand if not sovereign environments in which to live. Baron Alphonse de Rothschild also shared with Beckford and the 10th Duke of Hamilton a passion for and an energetic pursuit of rare and curious works of art. Despite the grandeur and scale of the houses in which they lived it is not surprising that each in turn should have been captivated by the exotic decoration, fragility and exceptional rarity of this small, exquisite and elegant jug.
We are grateful to Bet McLeod for her help on the Beckford-Hamilton provenance and to the Beckford Tower Trust for their permission to both illustrate and exhibit the Maddox painting. The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts are to hold a major exhibition, 'William Beckford, 1760-1844: At the Center of the Enlightenment', in New York and London from mid-October 2001 to May 2002. They would be extremely grateful if the purchaser of this lot would agree to lending the jug to that exhibition.