Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ewer with the Feline-Shaped Handle Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions derived from Abraham and has been growing rapidly in its popularity. The Quran is a religious text crucial to the religion and its main difference from Judaism and Christianity is the sacred prophet, Mohammed. In continuation, around the 7″-century Islamic art was formed and can be defined as art by people who have been influenced by Islamic culture. Countless countries have adopted Islam as their religion and Muslims demonstrate their devotion to Allah through refined art, mostly done with patterns of vegetal and floral shapes.
This style is often shown to represent the infinite nature of Allah and is called arabesque. I encountered The Ewer with the Feline-Shaped Handle during an Arts of the Islamic World guided tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This piece was from the early periods of Islam and is a continuation of Parthian and Sasanian forms during the early Islamic periods of Iran.
I will be discussing why I chose this object and why the museum decided to showcase it regarding its relation to early Islamic history and elements of religious patterns.
Particularly, the ewer’s aesthetic stood out because of the feline-shaped handle that was looking over the rim of the ewer’s vessel to devour two birds inside. This was an interesting component added to the making of the magnificent ewer aside from its use. The lobbed forms in
the ewer are mountains and the leaves represent plants (The MET).
The ewer has symbolic art in its entirety and there is a consistent pattern that reminds me of sacred geometry and arabesque, the attractiveness of symbolic patterns in Islamic art. According to the museum, the ewer is classified as metal and it’s medium is bronze, cast, chased and inlaid with copper. The reason pertaining to its placement in the museum may be because of how an ewer for practical use have delicate and precise detailed patterns, influenced from Iran’s early Islamic periods. Islam has rapidly grown over the decades and this object portrays the value Islam places in art.
Additionally, the tour guide said that the main reason for Muslims wanting to create perfect and outstanding artwork is because they believe Allah is beautiful and therefore he deserves to be surrounded by beauty, which is designed by people. Moreover, to have seen the ewer in person since its design and details are exceptional and one can see the creator’s image in mind. Perhaps the ewer represents the growth of Islam in comparison to the natural life; a large cat hunting for birds and repeating images of leaves and lobes representing everlasting growth. Since nature occurs, it can change and will always remain in the world. The same applies to the abstract concept of religion, it will forever be an aspect of Our world and it constantly changes and adapts to different communities, forming new religions and ideologies. The prime example is the emergence of another Abrahamic religion, which is Islam. It has vast similarities to Judaism and Christianity, yet it marks its own impact by developing history and influential forms of artwork. Although an ewer is not the main contribution to Islamic art, this object nonetheless speaks at its own magnitude and brilliant to observe.
For instance, in The Sacred and Profane; Nature of Religion, by Mircea Eliade, he has a thought-provoking statement about ordinary objects becoming sacred as a result of how it is used and perceived by a sacred person or community. An ewer will be an object if made for practical uses, but in this object, it transforms into sacredness from the nature it was created by; art inspired by the rise of Islam. Eliade names this a hierophany, when something sacred shows itself to us, or the act of manifestation of the sacred (Eliade 11). In this reference, an ordinary
object can become “alive” and becomes a reality separate from objects that are a part of the natural secular world. Therefore, an ewer can be used to pour water and wash things off, but because of the meaningful artwork surrounding it, the sacredness is shown through an Islamic
In Eliade’s bo0ok, he gives the example of an ordinary stone transforming into a sacred object and can be worshipped because it is more than a stone (Eliade 12). The stone and ewer are now “beings” with a supernatural reality, therefore having become sacred objects for the sacred person. while still being ordinary objects for the profane person. Moreover, the profane desire to desacralize themselves from sacredness since they believe it is the obstacle to their freedom (Eliade 203). This is why the ewer is very important for Islamic art because it portrays sacredness, respecting the supernatural, holy deity Allah is. The separation of secular and sacred art is in existence; however, religion is deeply rooted in history and cannot be taken out of museums for this. Even if secular art has an impact on modem art today, one cannot ignore the outstanding artistic creations inspired by religious contexts.
In essence, there are countless factors that have inspired people to create masterpieces or any form of artwork that is recognized by distinguished museums. Religion has been an extraordinary inspiration for centuries and this is showcased by the ewer with the feline-shaped handle from the early Islamic periods of Islam. Additionally, some pieces of art are simple objects such as plates, cups, or silverware and because of religion, they can become sacred objects, obtaining a more profound meaning to their superficial components. The museum
wanted to include different objects that portray the worship of Allah and the well-crafted ewer stands out to me, and to the museum as well for deciding to show it at the Islamic art tour.
Thankfully, I was able to immerse myself into another religion’s artwork and gain more knowledge on the type of materials used and have a deeper understanding of what it means to another community and observe the excellence of it.