The Well-Traveled Ornament
"Valuable skills like glassmaking or beadmaking would have been closely-held secrets, limited to families, with entry into this very conservative craft via apprenticeships."
Islamic glass beads traveled faster and further than any other beads of their time. From their source in the Middle and Near East they migrated far beyond the boundaries of Islam’s swiftly expanding influence in North Africa and Spain to Iceland in the west and China (Xinjiang) in the east. Islamic glassworkers of the Medieval period mastered new styles and techniques that insured their wares, including beads, were valued by merchants plying the great trade routes across and around Africa, into Europe, and across the deserts and mountains into Central Asia, India and beyond. Small, monochromatic, drawn Indo-Pacific glass beads, still being made in India today, have been around longer and were made in more places, but even they were not as widely distributed as Islamic glass beads (Francis, Jr. 1990, 2002).
The term Islamic Period Glass Beads is used, similarly to Roman Period Beads, to classify groups of ornaments from specific geographic areas and time periods, with recognizable characteristics including patterns and techniques. In the case of Islamic glass beads we know they originated in the Middle East and flourished mostly between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Their designs display a wide mix of techniques and styles: millefiori/mosaic (including pierced mosaic pad beads), trailed, filigreed, combed, fused rods, segmented/blown, folded (an Islamic innovation, Holland and Holland 2006) and those derived from amulet shapes, like charmcase beads with loops.
Robert K. Liu
Ornament’s Coeditor, features Islamic glass beads. These beautiful beads spread throughout most of the medieval world, including North and West Africa, Europe, and Asia from their origins in the Middle and Near East.
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