Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Hegira second half of the 7th century / AD second half of the 13th century
KGM 1890, 431
Bronze, engraved; silver inlay.
Height 6.5 cm, diameter 7 cm
Syria or Iraq.
The decoration on this small cylindrical writing implement consists of a frieze composed of four round medallions. One of the medallions shows a depiction of a rider with cheetahs. These animals were especially trained for hunting, in order to accompany the rulers on their hunts. One of the riders hunts with bows and arrows, another appears with a hunting falcon resting on his arm, and another with an attacking lion. Symmetrical arabesques featuring animal motifs and a depiction of the sun provide the decorative backdrop to these symbols of power of the ruling class. The horizontal (middle) axis depicts heads of lions and bulls (Leo and Taurus) and the sun. The tendrils end in pairs of fish (Pisces), birds, sphinxes and ibexes (Capricorn). They are highly fantastical. The bottom part is decorated with a plaited ornamental band. The imagery of plant tendrils ending in animal heads originated during the AH 6th / AD 12th century in the eastern part of the Islamic world, but it was also used by artists in the AH 7th / AD 13th century in the lands ruled by the Ayyubids, and in the kingdom of the northern Iraqi prince Badr ad-Din. Later, it was also of importance in the metalwork of the Mamluks.
On the top of the inkstand there is a semi-circular opening with a lid in which to fit an inkwell, and two circular openings to hold feather quills. This part is most probably a work of restoration done during the Mamluk period. It is decorated with a blossom motif, but the quality of this decoration does not match that of the rest of the receptacle in terms of artistic skill.
The owner of such an inkstand would be considered to be an educated man who had mastered the art of writing, which, due to its use in the Qur’an, was highly esteemed in the Islamic world. The Qur’an was believed to be the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad, and is still written in Arabic script today.
This cylindrical inkstand was used as writing tool. It has receptacles for ink and writing implements and is decorated with silver inlay showing scenes of the royal hunt. Learned scribes of the period were proud of their decorated inkstands and so this may have been commissioned by a scribe.
Comparisons of the ornamentation have led to the conclusion that this inkstand most probably dates from the second half of the 7th / 13th century.
Acquired in 1890 by the Museum of Arts and Crafts, Berlin from A. Cantoni in Milan. Transferred as a long-term loan.
It cannot be unequivocally established whether its origins lie in Syria or Iraq, because inlaid metalwork was created throughout the region.
Allan, J. W., Islamic Metalwork: The Nuhad es-Said Collection, London, 1982, pp.32–9.
Baer, E., Encyclopaedia Islamica, Supplement 3–4, Leiden, 1981, pp.203–4.
Hagedorn, A., Die Blacas-Kanne: Zu Ikonographie und Bedeutung Islamischer Metallarbeiten des Vorderen Orients im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert, Münster, 1992, no. 128.
Museum für Islamische Kunst, Catalogue, Berlin, 1979, no. 370.
Ward. R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.71–93.
Annette Hagedorn "Inkstand" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;27;en
Prepared by: Annette Hagedorn
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 35
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Arabic Calligraphy | Calligraphic Schools The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Madrasas and Education
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