The Glass Making Art of Islam - Kaleela

The Glass Making Art of Islam

The Glass Making Art of Islam

Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Islamic luxury glassware was the most sophisticated glass exported to both Europe and China after Islam overtook most of the traditional glass-producing territories of both the Sasanian and Roman Empires. In Pre-Islamic times, figurative decoration played a small part in the making of Arabic glass, so the change from Persian and Roman glassmaking was not abrupt, and as a result, the innovations used by Persian glassmakers were starting to show up in the works of Egyptian glassware artists. Thus, it is nearly impossible to distinguish what places (such as Egypt, Syria, and Persia – all epicenters of glass production) made what glass without involving scientific analysis of the material that the glassware is made of – something that is difficult within itself.

Somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries, luxury glass was popular because of the effects that could be achieved by glassmakers maneuvering the surface of the glass, first through incision, and then later by cutting away the background to create a relief design.  Hedwig glasses, named after the Silesian princess St. Hedwig, to whom three of the 12 known glasses are said to have belonged, were made in this manner; however, where exactly these glasses were made is still  unclear, but Egypt, Iran and Syria have all been suggested as possible sources. If they were not produced in any of these countries, they are, at the very least, influenced by Islamic glass which shows the influence Muslim glassmakers had on Europe and other parts of the world during the Islamic period.  Over a hundred years later, however, the luxury glass industry in Persia and Mesopotamia started to wane as the primary source of luxury glass producers shifted to Egypt and Syria, who later, along with Hebron, Palestine, started making simpler, less luxurious glassware.

Luster Painting

Going back to a process used in 8th century Egypt, and using similar techniques that are used in creating lusterware pottery, luster painting entails applying metallic pigments during the process of glassmaking. Later craftsmen added gilded, painted, and enameled glass along with shapes and motifs inspired by other media to their selections.  Some of the best examples can be seen in the mosque lamps that were donated by Muslim sovereigns; however, the downside was that, as the adornments grew more intricate, the quality of the glass decreased, sometimes exhibiting bubbles or oft times turning the glass into a brownish-yellow hue.

After the Mongol invasion of 1260, Aleppo no longer made glass, the industry seems to have just disappeared in Syria after the Timur took skilled artisans and glassmakers to work as slaves in Samarkand. Finally, by 1400 or so, the Italians were taking in orders for mosque lamps in Venice.

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