Islamic Mosque Lamp in Enameled Glass
Period: Mamluk, Syria or Egypt, 13th-early 14th Century A.D.
Material: Enameled Glass
Dimensions: Height: 26 cm.
Ex-Charles Gillot Collection, Paris, acquired on May 15, 1900 from Dikran Khan Kelekian (1868-1951), Paris.
Recorded in the accounts of Charles Gillot on May 15, 1900. Number 91 (located in the 3rd floor gallery, 2nd shelf) in the estate inventory of the Charles Gillot Collection, dated April 11, 1903.
This glass lamp has been lightly gilded and is slightly opaque; it consists of a conical foot, a bulbous body and a flaring neck. Six small handles are distributed around the belly. Decorative medallions with colored fleurs de lys, bordered by a motif of blue leaves, are placed between the handles. A foliate motif of colored flower buds and unfurled leaves ornaments the top and bottom of the belly. The neck is decorated with roundels with stylized inscriptions. Deep green foliage and an imitation red wax stamp alternate with these roundels. Two lines of decorative blue leaves border these motifs. Very finely drawn in red ink with the help of a stylet, are friezes of commas placed at the level of the belly, the neck and the upper edge of the lamp.
In the Islamic religion, the donation of a lamp was considered an act of reverence towards God. This act is connected to a text in the Koran that says in verse 35 of the sura The Light: God is the light of the heavens and the earth! His light is like a niche in which one finds a lamp. The lamp is made of glass; the glass is like a brilliant star. The analogy between the light and God inspired the donation of lamps such as this one as well as many others since figural representations of God are strictly forbidden by Islamic religion. The beginning of this verse was later reproduced by Mamluk glass lamps. From a practical point of view, the donation of lamps during this period was necessarily important for lighting the interiors of mosques during the morning and evening prayers.
The origin of the production of such enameled glass lamps is tentatively attributed to the 13th century to Syrian and Egyptian artisans who excelled in the creation of colored and enameled glass. The first Islamic enameled glass appeared in Syria between the 12th and the early 13th century. This technique, which was quickly adopted by Egyptian artisans, flourished into a large and thriving industry. It remains very difficult to distinguish between Syrian and Egyptian production. Enameled glass is a colored glass technique. When the glass has been formed and cooled, the artisan applies a mix of oil and pigment to the surface with the aid of tweezers or a brush. The object is then placed at the opening of the kiln until it reaches a low temperature that slowly reheats it. The pigments fuse together with the surface of the glass, creating a fine layer of color that is solidified by the cooling.
Scientific analysis of the composition of the lamp presented here and its pigments confirm its attribution to the Mamluk period. The composition of the glass and the techniques used in its creation are typical of Mamluk production from thet 12th – 14th centuries. The dating given by the technical analyses corresponds perfectly to observations about the morphological and iconographic elements. This allows us to overcome the absence of an inscription referring to a king or a rich donor that would have allowed us to date the object in a more precise manner.
Morphologically, the lamp is very elegant and placed on a high conical foot. It seems that this form evolved from lamps from the second half of the 13th century. The Victoria & Albert Museum (inv. 330-1900), possesses one of the only examples that survive from this period: very simple and elongated, this lamp from the 13th century has figural decoration (very rare) on a transparent ground. The body is small, nearly oval. The foot is narrow and conical, mirroring the large inverted cone of the neck. This form stands our clearly from the squatter pieces from the 14th and 15th centuries: their feet are small, sometimes lacking the conical form and no longer in the shape of a ring. The neck is excessively developed and is half the height of the lamp. The body is large, sometimes round or semi-spherical. From a morphological point of view, our lamp appears to be part of a transition phase between the 13th and 14th centuries: the foot is a fifth of the height; the belly and the neck are equally divided between the remaining four-fifths.
Iconographically, the use of vegetal decoration supports an attribution to the early 14th century. During this period, artisans abandoned the animal motifs derived from the influence of Khorasan to concentrate on vegetal motifs. This movement was initiated at the end of the 13th century.
CARBONI, S. , Glass from Islamic Lands: The Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait National Museum, New York, 2001, pp. 323-325.
For an introduction to the production of enameled glass, see:
CARBONI S., Mamluk Enamelled and Gilded Glass in the Museum of Islamic Art, Quatar, London, 2003, p. 48-51, n° 7.
S.M. GOLDSTEIN, Glass from Sassanian Antecedents to European Imitations: the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, vol. XV, London, 2005.
LAMM, C.J., Mittelalterliche Gläser und Steinschnittarbeiten aus dem Nahen Osten, 2 vol. Berlin, 1929-1930.
On the technique of enameled glass, see:
WATSON O., Pottery and Glass: Luster and Enamel in Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East, London, 1998, pp. 15-19.
For examples of piece of this type, see:
BERGMAN S.M., Ancient Glass in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, 1980, n° 274.
CHARLESTON R. J., Masterpieces of Glass: A World History from the Corning Museum of Glass, New York, 1990, n° 33.
WARD R. (ed.), Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East, London, 1998, fig. 23.5, 23.6, 25.4, 25.5, 25.6.