Byzantine Glass Cup

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Byzantine Glass Cup

Byzantine Empire
8th to 9th Century A.D.
H: 6 x Diameter: 10.5 cm 



A green and blue glass cup with a rounded base and everted rim. The sides are decorated with a golden brown painted lattice, expanding out from a central sunburst motif on the base. A gold border runs just below where the lip begins to flare outwards. Three crosses are placed at even intervals around the border, divided by abstract triangular motifs.

This bowl features the lustre-painted, or ‘stained’, technique which was used in Egypt and Syria from the seventh to the ninth century. Pigments containing silver and/or copper were applied to the glass and then fired in a kiln at a low temperature. The pigment is then “absorbed” beneath the surface through a chemical reaction and permanently colours – or stains – the glass, becoming part of its atomic structure.

The presence of Christian imagery on a bowl decorated with an Islamic technique points to the rich cross-current of trade and ideas in the Middle East and Levant at the time, and suggests that this bowl might have been a particular commission from a Christian patron for an Islamic craftsman.

Both the shape of the bowl and the lustre-painting technique are in keeping with Islamic glass production in Syria and Egypt in the late eighth and ninth centuries; however, there are no exact parallels known for the surface decoration, supporting the idea that this was a unique commission.

It is also possible that this bowl was produced by a Byzantine Christian workshop, as a constant stream of influences flowed between both sides. It is known, for example, that the Muslim Arabs of Al-Andalus employed Byzantine craftsmen in the tenth century to help construct the Great Mosque of Cordoba, repeating an earlier practice, and that the Fatimid Caliphs borrowed the technique of cloisonné enamel from the Byzantines. It is perfectly possible that Byzantine craftsmen may have incorporated the technique of lustre-painting into works of art with Christian imagery, such as this bowl.


Collection D’art Africain du Vicomte Aimé Olivier de Sanderval, 30th Nov 2013, Hotel des Ventes Mediterranée, Lot 72.


Previously in the Private Collection of the Vicomte Aimé Olivier de Sanderval (1840-1919), France.
Thence by descent.
Sold at: Collection D’art Africain du Vicomte Aimé Olivier de Sanderval, 30th Nov 2013, Hotel des Ventes Mediterranée, Lot 72.
With Galerie Cybele, Paris, acquired from the above sale (accompanied by French cultural passport 142048).
Private Collection of Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani (inventory number BELC590), acquired from the above 6th February 2015.
With David Aaron Ltd., London, acquired from the above.
Private Collection, London, acquired from the above 5th October 2021.
ALR: S00219976, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database. 

Note on the Provenance

Vicomte Aimé Olivier de Sanderval (1840-1919) was born in Lyon, the second of three brothers. He attended the lycée Saint-Louis in Paris and the Parisian Central School of Arts and Manufactures. Alongside Pierre Michaux, De Sanderval went on to become an early manufacturer of the velocipede (an early form of the bicycle) after travelling across France on one with his brother René.

A long-time admirer of French explorer René Caillié, de Sanderval himself explored much of ‘Lower and Middle Guinea’. He visited Labé in 1875 and travelled to Timbo by way of Boké twice, in 1880 and 1888.

For many years, de Sanderval lived in the Labé and Timbo regions, and persuaded the almamy, the leader of the imamate of Futa Jallon, to grant him sizable territorial concessions. He even had coins struck while trying to establish his own realm in the Fouta Djallon region in what is now Guinea. Although the almamy’s earlier concessions were taken away from him, they played a part in the creation of a French protectorate over the Fouta Djallon area.

At some point, King Luís I of Portugal bestowed on him the title comte de Sanderval. He settled down in Conakry, and the Sandervalia district of the city is named after him.