First Treasure from the Renowned Keir Collection Long-Term Loan On View at the Dallas Museum of Art

The Rock Crystal Ewer is one of only seven existing examples of rock crystal ewers of this caliber from the entire medieval Islamic world

Dallas, TX—May 22, 2014—The Dallas Museum of Art announced today the presentation of the first work of art from the rarely shown Keir Collection, now on view at the Museum. The DMA announced in February the 15-year renewable loan of one of the largest private holdings of Islamic art. The Keir Collection is recognized by scholars as one of the world’s most geographically and historically comprehensive, encompassing almost 2,000 works, in a range of media, that span 13 centuries of Islamic art making. The carved rock crystal ewer from late 10th- to 11th-century Fatimid Egypt (969–1171), on view beginning May 27 in a special installation on the Museum’s third level, is considered one of the wonders of Islamic art.

“The Fatimid ewer is among the world’s greatest treasures, and we are privileged and grateful to be responsible for its care and presentation, said Maxwell L. Anderson, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “The spectacular craftsmanship evident in its carving speaks for itself, and compels us to reflect on artistic traditions elsewhere during the 10th and 11th centuries. It and the handful of other remaining examples of this period are unique testaments of the talent and imagination of the medieval Egyptian workshop responsible for it.”

Rock crystal is a pure form of the silica mineral quartz, prized for its transparency and flawless structure. Used as a gemstone and in ornamental carvings, large crystals are rare. Only seven rock crystal ewers of this caliber from the entire medieval Islamic world are known, and this ewer is the only one of its type in the United States. Its style reflects that of a ewer inscribed with the name of the Fatimid Caliph al-Aziz (r. 975–996) in the treasury of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.

Elegantly carved plant motifs and cheetahs decorate the Keir ewer. These are characteristic of Fatimid rock crystal, which is often embellished with stylized vegetal motifs—of Iraqi origin—and animals, such as birds of prey and felines. The ewer was cut from a single piece of rock crystal. A lengthy and time-consuming technique involving shaping, hollowing, and polishing creates an astonishingly fine thinness in places. This was a very delicate operation, and exceptional skill was required to create the elegant decoration on the crystal without breaking it. Still highly prized today, rock crystal from the medieval Islamic world was also cherished in the medieval West. Some works were kept in cathedral treasuries and given an ecclesiastical function. In 1854 in Sèvres, France, the Keir ewer was set with gold mounts (top, handle, and base) by the renowned goldsmith Jean-Valentin Morel (1794–1860), whose work was particularly celebrated in France and England. The colorful enamels of the gold mounts—the handle’s shape and decoration clearly inspired by the Fatimid original—enhance the ewer’s majestic presence.

The addition of the Keir Collection long-term loan transformed the Museum’s Islamic art collection into the third largest of its kind in North America and has advanced the Museum’s growing focus on new models for collection-building and cultural exchange. The Keir Collection was assembled over the course of five decades by the noted art collector Edmund de Unger (1918–2011). Named after the 18th-century British mansion where it was once housed, the Keir Collection includes textiles, carpets, ceramics, rock crystal, metalwork, and works on paper. Its geographic range extends from the western Mediterranean to South Asia. It is considered an indispensable resource for scholarship in the field of Islamic art. On long-term loan to the DMA, the Keir Collection supports the Museum’s emphasis on cultural exchange and is part of the DMX program, which is designed to foster international communication and collaboration. The collection will be on view in various curated displays in the coming years by Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir, the DMA’s first Senior Advisor for Islamic Art.

Images (left to right): Rock crystal ewer, Egypt, late 10th–11th century, Fatimid, mounts by Jean-Valentin Morel, Sèvres (France), 1854, rock crystal with enameled gold mounts, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art; Rock crystal ewer (detail), Egypt, late 10th–11th century, Fatimid, mounts by Jean-Valentin Morel, Sèvres (France), 1854, rock crystal with enameled gold mounts, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art

About the Dallas Museum of Art
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Museum welcomes more than half a million visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy, and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of Museum Partners and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.