29 March 2016

Damascan glass in a British stately home: Luck of Edenhall

Damascus gave the world en­am­elled and gilded glass which became a specialty of that Silk Road city in the late 13th century and well into the 14th century.

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.'

Eden Hall
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.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The story of the Luck of Edenhall has all the hallmarks of high drama and even fiction--I kept expecting Sherlock Holmes to be called in on the case to protect it! Although the odds for survival for any particular object are slim, a number of amazingly fragile objects do survive. Many of them are tomb objects, protected from the start, but few indeed are objects that have been in daily use for so long, and kept in such remarkable condition.

Deb said...

I haven't seen the mosque lamps in Damascus, but I did see them in Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. Gilded and enamel. Have you heard that there is a move to change Hagia Sofia from a museum back to a mosque?

Garden of Eden said...

My family came from the Eden region of Cumbria. But nobody can tell me why the Musgrave family moved south and why their super country home wss destroyed. Now only the church trails, alms houses and green spaces seemed interesting.

Andrew said...

It's very beautifully decorated glass but I guess it won't go in the dishwasher. Glass barely last a few years here so it is amazing that it has survived, the secret being, don't use it.

Hels said...


I had never heard of Lucks. In fact it was a student who asked me to examine the rare objects owned by families in the North of England where she came from.

But did The Gentleman's Magazine's go too far in suggesting it was the luck of the glass that would save the family? It sounded almost like Musgrave advertising hype to me!

Hels said...


Agreed. Those hundreds of mosque lamps looked fantastic.

I find the discussion about changing Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque a bit strange. Certainly there have been governmental and religious campaigns demanding that the iconic building be converted into a mosque again. But I do not understand the connection with the Pope, the Armenian Genocide and Turkey's ability to control the future of its own religious buildings.

Hels said...

Garden of Eden

The 12th Baronet, Sir Richard George Musgrave, stopped living at Edenhall around 1900 but he didn't sell the house until 1921. If the family finances had collapsed or if the death duties were onerous, the Musgraves would not have been the first landed family to be forced off their own estate.

Fortunately centuries of amazing family treasures were saved from the auction houses and were placed instead in the Penrith and Eden Museum, as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Hels said...


I know exactly what you are saying. I was writing my will one year and I said to the children to go through my collections and tell me what they would like to be left to each of them. It took them 10 minutes to run around the house, before saying "Thank you but within one week of you shuffling off this mortal coil, all the antiques would be sent to Sotheby's".

So precious antiques are in danger from a] falling apart from over-use AND b] children having different tastes from their parents and grandparents.

Hels said...

Garden of Eden

I found a record of England's Lost Country Houses. Here you will find details about 1,956 homes that were demolished, severely reduced in size or ruined, listed by county. For Eden Hall, see