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‘Solomon’s Bottle’: a Glass Bottle in Tehran and Abbasid Glass Floors in Mesopotamia and the Levant

Year: 1397
COI: JR_HSIK-2-1_006
Language: EnglishView: 141
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Markus Ritter - Professor History of Islamic Art, Department of Art History, University of Vienna Campus Spitalgasse ۹, A-۱۰۹۰ Vienna, Austria.


The article discusses a scarcely known medium of architectural decoration in Abbasid palaces, transparent glass tiles, and reports on the discovery of the largest known assemblage of fragments of such tiles in Tehran, in a bottle of the Glassware and Ceramics Museum of Iran.  The first part deals with the visual and material aspects of the use of transparent glass tiles, based on archaeological evidence, and it relates them to an iconography of a glass room in palaces, based on texts. A floor pavement, possibly also wall revetments, made of such tiles were excavated in residences at Raqqa in Upper Mesopotamia, Syria, dated to 180–193/796–809. The finds from the 1950s are scarcely known and have not been properly discussed. About two dozen fragments, mostly small, were recorded. They are compared with a few fragments that were excavated in other places of Syria and Iraq or turned up in the art market. So far nothing comparable is known from Abbasid sites in Iran and Khurasan.   Using evidence from Palace B at Raqqa, the article demonstrates that glass tiles covered the floor of one specific room. The tiles are of transparent aqua-colored glass with green, blue, and turquoise hues. The underside is studded with half-globular nubs and was placed in a white plaster bedding. On the upper side it produced a visual pattern of drops and lines with varying color tonalities, making the greenish-bluish glass floor reminiscent of a water surface. This room was situated in the official wing of the building and functioned as a reception space. It can be related to the idea of the reception room with a floor that looks like water in the legendary palace of King Solomon/Sulaymān, mentioned in various religious and historical texts of Islamic writing of the 1st/7th–5th/11th centuries and based on the passage of his meeting with the Queen of Sheba in the Quran (sura 27, verse 44). A ‘Glass Room’ with a watery floor like in Palace B would connect the princely patron of the building with King Solomon, the wise and powerful ruler and famous builder.  The second part of the article proposes to identify a glass bottle in the Glassware and Ceramics Museum of Iran in Tehran, which has been attributed to Parthian–Sasanian Northwest Iran, as a modern pastiche made from a multitude of small fragments of transparent Abbasid glass tiles. Close visual inspection of the square prismatic bottle shows that the semi-globular nubs of the exterior decoration constitute individual glass pieces of various sizes, that were glued together and form the body and the handle. These glass pieces are comparable to the fragments of Abbasid glass tiles that have been found in excavations. The article demonstrates that the bottle is a fake or forgery that was made from such fragments but copied Roman bottles. It was made for the art market in the years before the museum acquired it and later was presented as an object of Persian art.  The article argues that nevertheless the bottle must be considered a highly important object and raises the question of its future museum presentation. Firstly, the number of glass tile fragments in it is much larger than what has been documented in excavations. They expand our knowledge on them, as visual differences point to at least nine tile sorts. Secondly, the bottle highlights the important modern phenomenon of faking Persian and Islamic art. Architectural decoration, from the early Islamic Abbasid period and with reference to Solomon’s palace, was made into a vessel that followed Roman models but became perceived as pre-Islamic Persian artifact. 


Architectural Glass , Abbasid Architecture , Pre-Islamic Glass , Solomon in Islamic Art , Historiography of Persian Art. , شیشه در معماری , معماری عباسیان , شیشه پیش از اسلام , سلیمان در هنرهای اسلامی , تاریخ‌نگاری هنر ایرانی.

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Ritter, Markus,1397,‘Solomon’s Bottle’: a Glass Bottle in Tehran and Abbasid Glass Floors in Mesopotamia and the Levant,

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