Lot 96
  • 96

A highly important Mamluk gilded and enamelled glass bucket or finger-bowl, Syria or Egypt, mid-14th century

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
1,553,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 21.4cm. height 20cm. max. diam.
made of thick glass with a brownish tinge and some large and many tiny bubbles, of slightly flaring cylindrical form with a raised flange to the exterior below the mouth, the sides decorated with a blue enamelled inscription set against a winding white scroll with animal terminals in green, yellow, white and black interspersed with red leaves, the thick red enamel ground and border of the inscription appear pinkish but were originally gilded, the lower section with four roundels containing lions striding to the left with right paw raised and long tail doubling back over their rump, the roundels framed in red with gold lobes as an outer edge and a gold ground, the roundels separated by double-headed eagles outlined in red and filled with gold with wings outstretched and claws clasping the dragon-headed terminals of their tails, bordered below and around the rim with friezes of red palmettes once gilded all over, with small green enamel dots decorating alternate palmettes on the lower frieze, a narrow twisted and knotted cable outlined in red and filled with gold runs around the vessel just above the flange


Collection Frédéric Spitzer (1815-90)
Sold at auction: P. Chevallier & C. Mannheim, Paris, 17 April-16 June 1893, lot 1975, Travail oriental (XIVe siécle), pl.XLIX, where purchased by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild for 14,500 francs.
Collection Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905).
Collection Baron Edouard de Rothschild (1868-1949).
Collection Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild (1914-1999).
Rothschild inventory nos. P.48 and E.de.310.
Sold at auction: Christie's London, The Collection of the late Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, 14 December 2000, lot 16 (where catalogued as "Probably France, second half 19th century").


Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, Les Chefs-d'oeuvre des Collections françaises retrouvés en Allemagne par la Commission de Récupération artistique et les Services alliés, 1946, no.185 "Syrie Alep (fin du XIIIe siécle)", description by C. Dreyfuss.


E. Garnier, 'Collections de M. Spitzer', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, deuxiéme période, 1884, XXIX, p.297, fig.1.
E. Gerspach, L'art de la verriere, Paris, 1885, pp.112ff., fig.53.
E. Garnier, Histoire de la verriere et de l'émaillerie, Tours, 1886, p.64.
E. Garnier, 'La verrerie', in Collection Spitzer, Antiquité - Moyen Age - Renaissance, Vol.III, Paris, 1891, no.7, p.70, pl.II and title vignette to chapter on p.81.
G. Schmoranz, Old oriental gilt and enamelled glass vessels, English version, Vienna and London, 1899, pp.20-1, 33.
R. Schmidt, Das Glas, Berlin & Leipzig, 1922, p.51, fig.28.
E. Rouveyre, Analyse et compréhension des oeuvres et objets d'art, Paris, 1926, p.24, fig.6.1
C.J. Lamm, Mittelalterliche Gläser und Steinschnittarbeiten aus dem Nahen Osten, Berlin, 1929-30, Vol.I, p.306, Vol.II, pl.115, fig.12, 'Damascus group, circa 1260-70'.
R. Ward: 'Big Mamluk Buckets', Annales du 16e Congres de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre, London, 2003, pp.182-185 and colour plates 39-41.

Catalogue Note


'I am a toy for the fingers shaped as (in the form of) a vessel

I contain cool water'

(reading by Professor Doris Abouseif)

The inscription is written in informal cursive style in two sections of equal length. Each section begins above and to the left of one of the lions. The same inscription is sometimes found on round bottomed brass bowls, which were generally used as finger bowls in the Mamluk period; only one of these has been published (Ward 2003, fig.3).  Poetic verses derived from the metalwork's repertoire are seen on other glass vessels, such as the bowl in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Carboni and Whitehouse 2001, pp. 240-42).

All of the decorative motifs can be paralleled on Mamluk glass.  The combination of heavy enamels with simple gilded motifs outlined in red, scattered roundels, animated scrolls, is also seen on the pilgrim flask in the British Museum (Carboni and Whitehouse 2001, pp. 247-49).  A splayed eagle, albeit with only one head, friezes of palmettes, scattered roundels, animals in gold outlined in red, scattered dots of enamel are all found on the bowl in the Metropolitan Museum of Art mentioned above.  The lion roundels were probably inspired by the emblem used by Sultan Baybars (1260-1277), but they continued to be used as decorative motifs throughout the fourteenth century on vessels and even on coins (Ward 1998, p.31).

The brownish, bubbly quality of the body glass, the range and application of the enamels are typical of Mamluk glass vessels. Analyses of the body glass and enamels by Julian Henderson show them to be consistent with a fourteenth-century Middle Eastern glass object (analyses published in Ward 2003, Table. 1). Henderson's most significant discovery was that the blue enamel is coloured by lapis lazuli rather than cobalt. Lapis lazuli was frequently used in blue enamels on Mamluk glass but is unknown from other periods.

The use of thick red enamel to give a three-dimensional quality to the framing bands and the palmettes demanded exceptional skill from the glass maker.  This impasto technique is only seen on a small number of Mamluk vessels, all of the highest quality, such as the Kassel and Waddesdon beakers (Ward 1998, figs 12.4 and colour plate J).

The bucket has the distinctive base structure unique to beakers produced in the Middle East in the thirteenth and fourteenth century: a separate pad of glass was applied to the foot of the vessel which causes the inner wall to dome while the top part is pulled down in the centre where it touches the pad, leaving a distinctive dimple in its top (Tait 1998, p.52-3).

Four other buckets survive. The finest of them has been in the Historisches Landesmuseum in Kassel since its foundation in the 1770s (Ward 2003, colour plate 40).  The second used to be in Prince Yusuf Kamal's collection and is now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo (illustrated in Lamm 1929-30 vol. II, pl. 182 no.2).  The third was in the collection of Madame Edouard Andre in 1929 but its present location is unknown (illustrated in Schmoranz 1899, 33 fig. 30; Lamm 1929-30 vol. II,  pl. 179 no. 11). The fourth is in the Gulbenkian collection in Lisbon (no. 2377, illustrated in Ribeiro and Hallet 1999, pp. 120-121, no. 8). The buckets also relate closely to two glass candlesticks, which are really just inverted buckets with a neck and socket attached (Corning Museum 90.1.1, Carboni and Whitehouse 2001, pp. 270-71; ex-Eumorphopoulos collection, illustrated in Hardie 1998, fig 20.5).  Fragments of the distinctive rim and pinched flange seen on both buckets and candlesticks have been found at Fustat (for illustrations of some of these see Lamm, 1929-30 vol. 2, pl. 119 no.17; pl. 132 nos 26 & 28; pl. 133 no.1; pl.182 no.2).

Lamm attributed the bucket to his Damascus group and dated it 1260–1270 (Lamm 1929-30 vol. I, 306, vol. II, pl. 115 no. 12), probably because he believed the lion roundels to be emblems of sultan Baybars. More recently, Ward has suggested that it should be dated to the mid-fourteenth century on the basis of stylistic and technical comparisons with other Mamluk glass and metal vessels (Ward 2003 185).


Carboni, S., and Whitehouse, D., Glass of the Sultans, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001.
Christie's, The Collection of the late Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, London, 14 December 2000.
Garnier, E., 'Collections de M. Spitzer', Gazette des Beaux-Arts XXIX, deuxième période, Paris, 1884.
Garnier, E., L'Art de la Verrerie, Paris, 1885.
Garnier, E., Histoire de la Verrerie et de l'Emaillerie, Tours, 1886.
Garnier, E., 'La verrerie', in Collection Spitzer, Antiquité - Moyen Age - Renaissance, vol. III, Paris, 1891.
Lamm, C.J., Mittelalterliche Gläser und Steinschnittarbeiten aus dem Nahen Osten, Berlin, 1929-30.
Ribeiro, M., and Hallet, J., Mamluk Glass in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, 1999.
Tait, H., 'The Palmer Cup and related glasses exported to Europe in the Middle Ages' in Ward, R. ed., Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East, London, British Museum Press, 1998, pp. 50-55.
Ward, R., 'Glass and brass' in Ward, R. ed., Gilded and Enamelled Glass from the Middle East, London, British Museum Press, 1998, pp. 30-34.
Ward, R., 'Big Mamluk Buckets', Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre, London, 2003, pp.182-185 and colour plates 39-41.