This Week’s Featured Object: Echoes of a Very Different Middle East – Clothing from Iraqi Kurdistan

Our featured object this week hearkens back to a time when the Middle East was quite different demographically than it is today. For more than 400 years, large parts of the Near and Middle East were governed by the expansionist Ottoman Empire. Under the Empire’s authoritarian rule, the many ethnic and religious minorities of the region, particularly in the border areas of modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, coexisted though not always peacefully.

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All of these groups, including Kurds, Turkomans, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and others, were strongly influenced by Ottoman culture. This was certainly true of fashion. The satin and silk embroidered waist jacket for a girl or young woman featured here this week is a good example of this. Using a technique known as Sarma, which made extensive use of metallic thread for embroidering, this item was acquired around 1930 in Iraqi Kurdistan by a Christian Iraqi family that later emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. This style of embroidered clothing was adopted in the later part of the 19th Century by ethnic and religious minorities throughout the region described above. Even after the Ottoman Empire collapsed following the First World War, its cultural influence remained and this style of clothing remained popular for decades, only gradually fading as the European colonial powers that had stepped into the Ottoman power vacuum relinquished their grip in the face of rising local nationalism.

Clio Ancient Art, Clio Antiquities

It is difficult for most modern viewers, without the benefit of learning the region’s complex history, to think of the Middle East as anything but a monolithic Islamic region. The horrors of the Armenian Genocide, the less well known Assyrian genocide, the huge population transfer of Greeks out of what is now Turkey following more than 2,500 years there, all unleashed by the emergence of post-Ottoman Turkish nationalism, were huge events that fundamentally transformed the region and made it much less diverse than it had ever been. Compounding those events of a hundred years ago are the population shifts seen since the rise of Islamic State, with many Kurds, Assyrians, Yazidis and others deciding to seek a better life in Europe, Canada, Australia or the US. Our little jacket is a reminder of a more diverse, complex and perhaps even happier side of life in the Middle East early in the previous Century.

Below are a few recommended works to help readers investigate further the diversity and complex relationships among different groups in the Near and Middle East during and just after the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.

  • Aboona, Hirmis, Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: Intercommunal Relations on the Periphery, 2008
  • de Bellaigue, Christopher, Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town, 2010
  • Braude, Benjamin, and Bernard Lewis, eds.Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire. 2 vols., 1982.

This item may be found in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/507209757/womens-or-girls-hand-made-embroidered?ref=shop_home_active_3

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This Week’s Featured Object: Medieval Islamic Glass Bangle

Our featured object this week is a fine example of a type of personal adornment that was popular in the Near East, particularly in Egypt, the Levantine coastal region (today’s Israel / Palestine and Lebanon), and greater Syria, including what is now southwestern Turkey, from the Hellenistic period right through the Roman, early Byzantine and Islamic periods. This glass bangle was made during the 13th to 15th Century, probably in what is now Syria or Israel / Palestine. This was an era in which Islamic glass artists dominated, with their products being highly sought after both in Europe and in the East. Their technical achievements would not be surpassed for a few centuries more, with the Venetian revival of glass making techniques from classical antiquity. This example is of rather more humble origins than the elaborate vessels and mosque lamps made in Medieval Islamic Syria and Egypt, but is still beautiful.

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Simple monochrome glass bangles first became common in the region during the later part of the Hellenistic period. During the Roman era, particularly in Egypt, these came to be made from multiple colors of glass. With only minor interruption, these continued into the early Byzantine period. They became really widespread during the Islamic era and were still being made at the small glass workshops in Hebron right up through the end of Ottoman rule in 1918. Bangles were fast and easy to make: a few chips of different colors of glass could be melted into a thick cane that would form the background or base color. The cane would then be stretched and one end attached to the other, before polishing the surface in the flame and evening out any irregularities. In later examples, from the 17th Century through to the early modern era, an additional cane of one or more colors twisted together in a spiral would often be added to the outside of the bangle or to both the inside and outside edges. This additional component is a sure sign of a very late date for Islamic bangles.

As a cautionary note to readers, there are many “low end” antiquities dealers, particularly online, who occasionally offer objects of this type and invariably refer to them as Roman, rather than Islamic. This is simple intellectual laziness and indifference to the objects themselves. There is a considerable body of published work available to assist anyone with an interest in ancient or medieval glass with distinguishing glass bangles and other objects from one time period to another. But lazy or dishonest sellers will simply label glass bangles as Roman, when the great majority of those on the market are in fact Islamic.

One printed resource that we highly recommend is the following:

Maud Spaer, Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001.

Within this work, see catalog number 471 for a very similar example (also illustrated in color on Plate 35), and Figure 85 for a group of similar examples of the 14th-15th
Century from the Islamic cemetery at Tel Dan.

This outstanding volume not only addresses ancient, medieval and post-medieval glass bangles in detail but is also an invaluable reference for dealing with items such as coin weights, amulets and beads. Beads can be especially difficult to date and Spaer’s work provides valuable technical data, particularly with regard to visible evidence of manufacturing techniques, to help the reader distinguish very similar types from one another.

This object is available on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Medieval-Islamic-Multi-Colored-Glass-Bangle-/132036706096?hash=item1ebe003f30:g:CMoAAOSwBLlVYku~

and on our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261524237/medieval-islamic-multi-colored-glass?ref=shop_home_active_18

Object of the Week: A Superb Byzantine Pottery Oil Lamp

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Many of the ancient oil lamps we offer at Clio Ancient Art are Byzantine, mainly from the Levant (what is now southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel / Palestine). Unlike Roman hard fired ceramic red slip lamps of earlier centuries, Byzantine lamps tend to be made from low fired pottery and their designs often reflect early Christian symbolism. Our object of the week is the superb Byzantine pottery oil lamp shown above.

This object dates to the 6th or beginning of the 7th Century AD, just before the advent of Islam in the region. It was probably made in that part of modern Israel / Palestine that is often referred to as Samaria. It measures just under 4 inches in length and remarkably well preserved, with very crisp surfaces. It is formed of slightly pinkish buff clay and rests on a flat base. The upper surfaces are decorated in relief with alternating groups of vertical lines and stylized bunches of grapes inside circles. It has a small saddle shaped handle and more grape motifs on the nozzle and wick hole, which also has slight indications of carbon black from use.

On lamps of this type the large circular discus typical of earlier Roman lamps that had served as a kind of “canvas” for decorative images is gone. The decoration here is focused on the shoulders of the lamp. This rule applies to several classes of low fired pottery lamps produced during the very late Roman period, throughout the Byzantine period and into the early Islamic period in the Levantine region. The well preserved surface decoration on this example includes bunches of grapes, an early Christian motif suggesting rebirth. The same motif was widely used earlier in Roman iconography in association with Dionysus, the god of wine.

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This lamp comes from a very large private collection assembled by a United Nations peacekeeping officer serving in Jerusalem in the mid-1960s. At the outset of the 1967 war, the collection was crated up and shipped to the United States, where his surviving relatives only opened the crates in 2012.

If you are interested in acquiring this object, which is modestly priced, you may find it on our eBay shop here (new tab or window) – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Superb-Byzantine-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-/131818636494?hash=item1eb100c4ce:g:rEQAAOxy69JTAkNE

Or on our Etsy shop here (new tab or window) – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265229854/byzantine-pottery-oil-lamp-6th-7th?ref=shop_home_active_18

There are a number of excellent online and print resources for ancient oil lamps, and especially for Levantine examples of this period. In print, we recommend: Rosenthal and Sivan, Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection, Jerusalem, 1978 (this is an older work and some issues pertaining to exact dates and locations of manufacture are still debated but overall still an excellent reference). Online, we recommend the RomQ Reference Collection (opens in a new tab or window): http://www.romulus2.com/lamps/index.shtml

 

Amazing But True Story

Amazing But True Story

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