Islamic Glassmaking History

Islamic glassmakers introduced new forms and decoration that were based on one or more of the three principal "building blocks" of Islamic art: geometric ornament, vegetal motifs, and calligraphy. From time to time, these craftsmen also depicted human figures, animals, birds, and fish.


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In the eighth century, glassmakers in Egypt discovered the technique of painting glass with metallic stain. Transparent stains colored with copper (which produces red or brown) and silver (which produces yellow) became a hallmark of early Islamic glassware in Egypt and the Near East

Islamic glassmakers inherited a long tradition of cold working: decorating an object by cutting, grinding, and polishing with a rotating wheel and abrasives, and by using hand-held tools. Between the third and seventh centuries, for example, Sasanian craftsmen had produced fine glassware with patterns of cold-worked facets. Their Islamic successors also made facet-cut objects, but in the ninth century they began to create vessels with linear decoration that included vegetal motifs, animals, birds, and inscriptions. During the ninth and 10th centuries, they produced great quantities of cut glass in several different styles.


Much of the glass cut by Islamic craftsmen resembled rock crystal. Glassworkers formed this material into blanks (plain objects) of eggshell thinness which were decorated by cutters. Much of this decoration involved removing both the background and the interior of the design, leaving the outlines in relief. On rare occasions, colorless blanks were given colored overlays, which were cut away to create cameo glasses such as the Corning Ewer

With the exception of objects for everyday use, much of the Islamic glass produced between the 11th and 13th centuries was colored. Some of these objects featured relief decoration that was formed by inflating the molten glass in decorated molds, while others were made of deep purple, blue, or green glass decorated with white trails that were tooled into festoons or featherlike patterns.

In the 13th century, decorators in the region of Syria achieved the first extensive application of enamels on glass. For the next two centuries, Syrian and Egyptian craftsmen produced large quantities of glass with brilliant polychrome ornament in many shapes and sizes.

Although the peak of Islamic glassmaking ended in the 14th century, later craftsmen produced high-quality glassware in the empires of the Ottomans (Turkey, the Near East, and the Balkans), the Safavids (Iran), and the Mughals (India).

Experts believe that Arabian "filigree' windows moved into Europe when the Muslims entered Spain.


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