Glass in the Islamic World

35 Centuries of Glass Galleries

After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the political turmoil in the western Roman Empire affected the economic stability of the region, resulting in a decline in glassmaking. In the Byzantine Empire of the eastern Mediterranean, however, glassmaking continued.

The rise of Islam, and the resulting expansion of Muslim territories through the seventh century A.D., ultimately gave rise to a society that kept alive many of the achievements that were lost in the west. Mosaic glass, cast and cut vessels, and free- and mold-blown wares continued to be made, and starting in the ninth century, new decorative approaches emerged. The principal advance began with the discovery that glass could be painted with metallic stains, resulting in a type of glass known as lustre ware because of its distinctive sheen. This was the first stained glass.

In the 10th and 11th centuries, casting and cutting techniques reached an even higher level of achievement. From the 12th through 14th centuries, gilded and enameled vessels took on a hitherto unseen brilliance. Glass artists created imaginative and highly schematic scenes with animals, geometric patterns, and calligraphic script painted in bright enamels. Through trade and political alliances, the new methods of ornamenting glass that had developed in the Islamic world slowly made their way to the west, giving rise to a re-emergence of glassmaking in Europe.

On view are remarkable examples of cut glass, including the green and colorless cameo-cut Corning Ewer [85.1.1]; stained glass, such as a cup with birds and fish [99.1.1]; blown colorless glass vessels decorated with brilliantly colored enamels and gilding, such as a candlestick [90.1.1]; and a rare surviving example of a dip mold [86.7.15].

Featured Objects of the Glass In The Islamic World Gallery