Persians and Arabians; and the art was brought to perfection in
Damascus and Aleppo, where Persian
workmen were numerous.
The Arabs carried on this industry for three
centuries. It practically ended when Tamerlane
invaded Syria and sent the glass-workers to
Samarkand with all the others craftsmen. In the
meantime, Crusaders had made the ware known in Europe. There was a
great demand for it in Venice, so the Venetians copied it until they
began to make their own characteristic ware, which completely changed
taste and fashion.
The material of this old Oriental glass is
exceedingly thick and tough, and because of the imperfect "fining,"
or clarification, and the innumerable, though minute, air bubbles,
it is less easily shattered than any other kind of glass.
In color it varies from bottle green to amber
and (rarely) to grayish white. The enamels are a fusible flux containing
much lead, colored by various metallic oxides— the red by
oxide of iron; the green by oxide
of copper; and the yellow by antimonic acid.
The blue, which is he dominant color in the decoration and the main
characteristic, is not, as was once supposed, carbonate of lead, colored
with cobalt, or copper, but lazulite stone pounded
with powdered glass. It appears in a variety of tints,— deep blue,
turquoise and grayish blue.
The lamps (perhaps better described as
lampshades, for the separate lamp is placed inside) have a swelling bulb
body, a flaring neck and large ear-shaped handles. Bottles, jugs and
flasks are round, or flattened, some with a high foot stand, others with
a simple foot rim. Some have long slender necks. The flattened vessels
are known as "pilgrim bottles." Little perfume
bottles for rose-water and other scents are usually of this flattened
shape. There are also bladder-shaped flower vases, dishes, bowls, beakers
and goblets. The latter are often called "cups." Charlemagne's cup, a
present from Haroun-al-Rashid, is now in the
Museum of Chartres, France.
This kind of glass was of no artistic value until
it came into the hands of the decorator.
First he applied the gold; then the pattern was drawn in thin red lines;
and, finally, the colored enamels were laid on in thick masses. Regarding
the motives of decorations, figure-subjects are absent in mosque lamps,
but they occur in bottles, goblets and dishes.
Designs of polo-players; huntsmen mounted on
horses and holding falcons on their wrists; people feasting; musicians
playing instruments; flying birds; fishes with big heads and long fins,
and handsome flowers and leaves are treated with spirit and fine
On the lamps there are often bands of tall cubic
letters. The flowers are chiefly of the lotus or lily tribe, variously
treated. Medallions often occur, containing emblems, or inscriptions, and,
sometimes, the name of the decorator.
In the color combinations the innermost spot is
always the clearest; and when the leaves or petals are red or blue, this
spot is white; when the leaves are green this spot is yellow.
Blackish-brown also appears in some specimens.
The burning in of the enamels seems to have been
done in a single operation. Saracenic glass is very valuable. In 1887, a
collector paid £1,600 ($8,000) for a small goblet; but now-a-days,
specimens bring even more fabulous sums.
The "Luck of Eden Hall" illustrated in gravure,
is a drinking-cup long preserved at Eden Hall, in Cumberland, England.
Presumably of Venetian workmanship, after the Saracenic style, this chalice
of enameled glass was made in the tenth century. Its special fame rests
on the legend of the Musgrave family that their
fortunes depend on its preservation.
The story goes that one night when the butler
went for water to St Cuthbert's well, he surprised a company of fairies
dancing. When he seized their cup, the queen of the fairies exclaimed:
"If e'er this cup should break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Eden Hall."
The ballad was written seven hundred years after
some crusading ancestor brought the relic home; but it is a tribute to
the beauty of the cup that a fairy origin was invented to account for it.