Brief Identification Edit

Ewer with a Feline Shaped Handle
"Ewer with a Feline Shaped Handle" depicts a feline looking over the top of the vessel, staring at two birds that are on the rim of the ewer. The ewer was found in Iran and is dated back to the 7th century. Given that it was found in Iran, this piece was developed in the Islamic culture. In antiquity, this ewer would have been used to carry water from place to place as well as for the storage of water. Today, the ewer resides in the Islamic Art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Technical Evaluation Edit

For the base work of this piece, the artist used a bronze metal. For the lobing and intricate workings on the piece, the artist chased the ewer in copper. It is also inlaid and casted in copper metal. Copper had multiple deposits throughout most of southwest Asia so it would have been readily accessible to most artists. Bronze is an alloy of copper which also contains tin. As opposed to copper, tin was a rare substance to be found in the Iran area. "The only traces of tin that have been geologically documented within the modern political boundaries of Iran are in the southeast" (Stöcklin p. 58)

The shape of this object is not that uncommon for the area in which it was found. The decoration on the ewer is supposedly "a stylized mountainous landscape" [1]

The provenance of this piece is that is was owned by Prince Orloff of Russia as late as 1912 and was then sold to the Brummer Gallery before being bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1947[2]

Local Historical Context Edit

For the first half of the 7th century, the area known today as Iran was ruled by the Sassanian Empire. During this time, Zoroastrianism was the ruling religion (as Zoroastrianism was founded in Iran about 1600 years before this piece was made[3]). In the mid 7th century, power transitioned from the Sassanians to Arab conquerors. The Arabs continued sacking city after city until the final city, Herat, fell in 643. The area then came under the control of the Umayyad Caliphate, which was entirely of the Islamic faith following the death of Muhammad in 632. (Gascoigne) When the Umayyads took power, the replaced most of the Sassanian remnants in the bureaucracy with their own forms (such as coinage and officials). Mu’awiya was the major leader of the caliphate throughout most of this period. He also moved the capital of the empire to Damascus, in present day Syria. "Arabic became the official language and Islam became the principal religion under Mu’awiya`s reign, which unified the many different regions under his control" (Yalman). The Persian population was highly stratified in the jobs with the highest level being bureaucrats and merchants and the lowest level including unskilled workers [4]

Though many pieces constructed during this era and in this area had some religious connotation to it, this piece in particular does not seem to have any connection the Islamic religion to it. In the early years of the caliphate`s rule, it was common to see non-Islamic art still being produced (MET)

Since tin was a resource that was scarcely available, the maker of this piece had to have a reasonably larger amount of money than the average Iranian at this time. The closest deposits were closer to the border with modern day Afghanistan so the artist needed to have ample resources to acquire the necessary ingredients to complete this work of art. It is unknown whether this piece was a commissioned work or if it was made for the artist themselves.

World Historical Context Edit

The ewer rose to prominence because of its complexity in dating when the object was constructed. The ewer was thought to be from the late Sassanian period until historians took a deeper look into the composition of this piece. Looking at the proportions of the ewer as well as the "stylized nature of its decorations" historians actually place the ewer in the Umayyad Dynasty era during the early centuries of their reign[5].

This ewer represents the transition of power from the Sassanian Empire to the Umayyad Dynasty. Although the ewer was made during a time when Islam was the state religion, the piece itself does not have any visible connection to the faith which would have been nearly unheard of at the time. During the early years of the Umayyad Dynasty, leaders were trying to convert people from Zoroastrianism to the Muslim faith. By not including any kind of icon on the ewer, it would have been a direct opposition of the new religion in power.

The artist had to have traded in some part in order to gain all the necessary materials (especially tin) to even begin to construct this piece.,

Suggested Bibliography Edit

BBC "Zoroastrianism at a Glance"

Metropolitan Museum of Art "Ewer with a Feline Shaped Handle"

J. Stöcklin et al., Central Lut Reconnaissance, East Iran, Geological Survey of Iran, Report 22, Tehran, 1972.

Gascoigne, Bamber. "History of Iran"

Britannica "Umayyad Dynasty"

Yalman, Suzan. "The Art of the Umayyad Dynasty"