This is one of a group of high spouted ewers made in Herat in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. They contained water for washing, and were highly esteemed locally and abroad. The inlaid decoration on this ewer features medallions containing images of the planets with the appropriate sign of the zodiac and benedictory inscriptions in a variety of different ornamental scripts.
A poem inscribed on a similar ewer in the Tiflis Museum, Georgia, describes their novelty and value:
'My beautiful ewer, pleasant and elegant,
In the world of today who can find the like?
Everyone who sees it says ‘It is very beautiful'.
No one has found its twin because there are no others like it.
Glance at the ewer, a spirit comes to life out of it,
And this is living water that flows from it.
Each stream which flows from it into the hand
Gives each hour new pleasure.
Glance at the ewer which everyone praises;
It is worthy to be of service to such an honoured person as you.
Everyone seeing how moisture flows from it
Is able to say nothing which is not appropriate to it.
This ewer is for water and they make it in Herat.
In what other century can they make the like of it?
Seven heavenly bodies, however proud they may be,
Are protection for the one who works so.
Let kindness come down on the one who makes such a ewer,
Who wastes gold and silver and so decorates it.
Let happiness come to him if he gives the ewer to a friend.
Let trouble come if he surrenders it to an enemy.'
The ewer is one of the first objects from the Islamic period to be acquired by The British Museum, in 1848. It was previously in the collection of a Roman jeweller named Rota. While there, it was studied and published by Michelangelo Lanci in his early study of Islamic art, the Trattato delle simboliche rappresentanze Arabische e della varia generazione de' Musulmani caratteri (Paris, 1845-46).