The Metropolitan Museum of Art has wonderful examples, describing the glasses has having gold and enamels which were applied to a glass surface using an oil-based medium. Because gilt and individual enamel colours have different specific chemical qualities, different temperatures were required to permanently fix them on glass. Applying colours one at a time and individually fixing them would subject a vessel to reheating several times and entail the risk of deforming its shape; so Mamluk glass makers mastered a procedure in which they applied all the colours at once and fixed them during a single firing in the kiln. Examine some enamelled and gilded glass vases, made in Syria during first half of the C14th.
Damascus mosque lamp (above)
Damascus vase (below)
Both early 14th century glass
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Now let us examine at the Luck of Edenhall, a glass beaker in the photos below that was presumably made in Damascus in the mid C14th. It was elegantly decorated with arabesques in blue, green, red and white enamel, with gold enamel on top. It is deep and narrow, measuring 16 cm in height and 11 cm wide at the flared rim.
This exotic and luxurious drinking glass had reached Western Europe by the C15th, when it was placed in a decorated stiff leather case with a lid. Since the leather case includes the Christian symbol IHS (which comes from the Latinised version of the Greek name for Jesus, ihsous), the case was probably made in a Christian country (? France). This purpose-made leather case had two great consequences: a] it protected the fragile glass from breakage over the centuries and b] the original brilliance of the Luck's colours did not fade.
Luck of Edenhall (left); leather cover and lid (right)
Glass drinking vessels very rarely survive and those that do tend not remain in one stately home for centuries. So the successful passing of this drinking glass through many generations of the Musgrave family of Edenhall Cumberland became legendary. It was first documented, and specifically named as the Luck of Edenhall, in the 1677 will of Sir Philip Musgrave.
The beaker is a great example of C14th luxury Islamic glass. Of course I would have expected a small, fragile object to have been destroyed or lost over the centuries, yet it survived against all the odds. Since a number of rare objects owned by families in the North of England were known as Lucks, it was the luck of the glass that apparently saved the family and not vice versa. The glass embodied the continuing prosperity of its owners!
This very sentiment was published in The Gentleman's Magazine in August 1791. A reverend gentleman wrote: 'The late agent of the family had such a reverential regard for this glass that he would not suffer any person to touch it, and few to see it. When the family, or other curious people, had a desire to drink out of it, a napkin was held underneath, lest any accident should befall it; and it is still carefully preserved, in a case made on purpose. If this cup should break or fall, Farewell the Luck of Edenhall.'
after the 1869 renovations
How ironic that the fragile glass remained safely in the possession of the Musgrave family but the family home, Eden Hall, was demolished in 1934! Eden Hall house had been the seat of the Musgrave baronetcy in Cumberland, many of whom were proud members of the aristocracy and of Parliament. The house was rebuilt a number of times in the 19th century, the version depicted here being finished in white stone in an Italianate style. The private chapel, entrance lodge and landscaped park were also much admired. So what went so badly wrong in Musgrave finances? Heavy death duties meant that the hall had to be sold in the early 1900s when the Musgrave family moved to London. Why the estate had to be demolished in 1934 is beyond me.
Fortunately the glass had been loaned to the Victoria and Albert Museum before the destruction of the estate (in 1926), and in 1958 it was given as a gift to the nation. It remains on permanent view in the V & A’s Medieval & Renaissance galleries.