Despite theological objections, animals constituted a major part of Islamic art iconography; metal animal-shaped vessels, such as the one displayed here, which was used to pour water for hand-washing, are exemplary specimens of this trend. The realistically sculpted features of this predatory bird and the animal-shaped handle contrast with the ornamentation that covers its body. Apart from a rudimentary rendition of the feathers, the majority of the ornamentation consists of geometrical and floral motifs, while the rosettes may actually represent the heavenly bodies. The Arabic inscription on the bird’s breast confers the blessing of Allah to the owner of the vessel. This ewer has many similarities with a dated (796-797), bird-shaped vessel of unknown origin that is preserved in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Chased and engraved cast copper alloy
Late eighth – early ninth century
Height 37 cm
Iraq (?)