Growing up as an Iranian-American, I could always find a container of rosewater in my family’s kitchen. I never thought much about it until I saw this twelfth-century rosewater bottle on view in the Freer.
The first thing that captured my attention was its intricate workmanship. In the Middle East, rosewater bottles are common items, but I had never seen one so elaborately decorated. What makes the bottle so beautiful is the amount of detail that went into making it, including the depiction of flowers and animals. An inscription in Kufic script around the base of the bottle reads, “And Blessing and good fortune. Blessing and good fortune and joy and happiness and safety and honor and longevity to the owner.”
However, what struck me most about the bottle was not its beauty, but its reason for being. Its sole purpose is to hold rosewater. Rosewater can be used for many purposes and is often used as a flavoring for sweets and drinks. It also has medicinal uses and is prescribed to calm nerves. Its fragrance is used to freshen up mosques. For me, rosewater brings up personal memories. While I was growing up, my mother affectionately called me gole golab, which means “the rose of the rosewater.”
I hope everybody gets a chance to view the bottle before the end of the year, when the Freer closes for renovation. Not only is the rosewater bottle beautiful, it’s an important part of Middle Eastern—and especially Persian—culture.
In case you can’t make it to the museums, the bottle is always on view at Open F|S.