213. A Fatimid Carved Marble Jar and Stand

Egypt, 10th–11th century AD
Size: jar 56 cm high; stand 32 cm high

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The jar is fluted, with two handles, and an inscription in Kufic script around the shoulder:

‘In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Perfect Blessing and Grace and uninterrupted happiness to the one who drinks [from this]’

The base (kilga) stands on four feet and is carved with architectural features including columns on each side. Among the most beautiful objects produced in the Fatimid period are a series of monumental water jars, carved from a single block of marble, the shape calling to mind a giant fruit or pod. They were made for grand private dwellings, or public buildings such as mosques or madrassas. Of the surviving examples in Egypt, the majority are in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo (see: Gaston Wiet, Album du Musee Arabe du Caire, Cairo, 1930, no. 11). A similar example with a Kufic inscription but no handles, found in the Al-Mughawir mosque in Alexandria, was exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna in 1998–9, as part of the Schatze der Kalifen exhibition of Fatimid art.

Outside Egypt comparable vessels are extremely rare. There are two in the Benaki Museum, Athens, published in Heavenly Art, Earthly Beauty, ed. Mikhail Piotrovsky and John Vrieze, De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam, 1999, nos. 99, 100. A third example is in a private English collection.