Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 694 / AD 1294
Brass; inlaid with gold and silver.
Height 14 cm, diameter (of the lip) 8.5 cm
A candlestick socket whose inscription is marked for its singularity as well as for its animated style. Most of the inscription, which runs around the lower end of the candlestick neck, assumes the forms of human figures, specifically those of warriors wielding swords, dressed in armour, and holding lances; some of the lettering is in the form of bird's heads. The inscription reads: 'To the Amir Katbugha, Glory, Long Life and Triumph over Enemies'. It is apparent from the inscription that the craftsman was offering glory to Katbugha, and wishing him a long life and victory over his enemies, specifically those who had in fact participated in the murder of the Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun. It appears that the craftsman deliberately employed ambiguous phraseology in his bid to avoid what might befall him at the hands of Katbugha's enemies if circumstances changed. In the upper zone of the candlestick neck, another inscription in Mamluk thuluth script unwinds, it reads: 'That which was intended for the treasury of his sublime Excellency, the lord al-Zayni Zayn al-Din Katbugha al-Mansuri al-Ashrafi'. Three decorative roundels filled with geometric designs and inlaid with gold, interrupt the inscription.
The epigraphic decoration present on this candlestick reflects some of the social and economic aspects of life in the Mamluk period, animating a period usually only found in historical narrative accounts. In the latter half of AH 692 / AD 1293 a cadre of Mamluk princes under the leadership of Amir Baydara, an officer of the sultanate, killed Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun, attacking him as he returned from a hunting expedition, and thereby paving the way for Baydara to assume power. Some Mamluk officers refused to take part in the plot and, under the leadership of the Amir Katbugha they staged a revolt against those who had killed the sultan. The rebels in turn killed Amir Baydara and his cohorts, displaying their bodies in the streets of Cairo. This series of events is according to the narrative account written by the historian, Al-Maqrizi in his Khiţaţ of 1853.The Mamluk officers agreed that the brother of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, Muhammad ibn Qalawun, should ascend the throne. He was, however, only nine years of age, so Amir Katbugha occupied the position of proxy to the sultanate, dispatching affairs of state on behalf of Muhammad ibn Qalawun for two years (694–6/1294–6). All these events are reflected in the inscriptions and ornamentation of this candlestick, which was made for Amir Katbugha al-Mansuri. The Museum was able to acquire only the neck of the candlestick; the body is currently housed in Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; bought by the gallery in 1925.
This is one of the most precious Islamic masterpieces due to its superb decoration, such as the inscription in the form of human figures, animals and birds. This style appeared in the late Ayyubid period and continued in the Mamluk. The candlestick was made for Amir Katbugha. The body of the candlestick is in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, USA.
Amir Katbugha al-Mansuri al-Ashrafi (AH 639–702/ AD 1239–1302)
In accordance with the above, the owner of this piece was Amir Katbugha al-Mansuri. Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun had drawn Katbugha into his closest circle of trusted companions and associates, conferring upon him the title nisba (attribution of close affinity or kinship), whereupon his name became Katbugha al-Mansuri al-Ashrafi. Following the murder of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun, Katbugha ruled as proxy to Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun for two years until he relinquished the reins of power to Sultan Lajin. Katbugha died at the age of 63 in 702 / 1302, during the second reign of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun.
By analysis of the inscriptions and the titles mentioned in it, it is apparent that the candlestick was made for Katbugha after the death of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun in hegira Muharram 693 (AD December 1293) and that, in view of the fact that the text is devoid of any title indicating Sultan Lajin or al-Nasir Muhammad, it could be deduced that it was inscribed before Katbugha ruled as proxy for the short period of two years before Sultan Lajin in hegira Muharram 694 (December 1294). In the light of these conclusions, the date of this piece could tentatively be pinpointed to 694 / 1294, and to be even more precise, it would have been commissioned when Katbugha was handling state affairs as a representative of the young Sultan Muhammad ibn Qalawun during his first period of rule.
The candlestick socket was bought by the Museum in 1917.
The provenance for this object can be located with some certainty to Cairo in light of the evidence as mentioned above.
Al-Maqrizi, Al-mawā'iz wa'l-i'tibār bi-dhikr al-khiţaţ wa'l-āthār [Exhortations and Contemplation of the Recollection of Plans and Monuments], 2 Vols, Cairo, 1853.
Al-Pasha, H., et al, Al-Qahira: Tarikhuha, Fununuha, Atharuha [Cairo: Its History, Arts and Monuments], Cairo, 1970.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington D.C., 1987.
Hamdi, A., et al, Katalog Ma'rid al-fan al-islāmi fi misr [Catalogue of the Islamic Art Exhibition in Egypt], Cairo, 1969.
Mustafa, M., Dalīl muthaf al-fan al-islami [Guide to the Museum of Islamic Art], Cairo, 1978.
Stierlin, H., and Stierlin, A., Splendours of the Islamic World: Mamluk Art in Cairo (1250–1517), London, New York. 1997.
Salah Sayour "Candlestick socket" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;10;en
Prepared by: Salah SayourSalah Sayour
Salah Ahmad Sayour holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University (1973) and is currently studying for an MA in the same field. In 1979 he had a four-month scholarship at Austrian museums to study museology. Preparing exhibitions for the Museum of Islamic Art's collections in the Arab World Institute, Paris and curating exhibitions held in host museums in the USA and Paris augmented his experience leading to his appointment as head of several sections at the Museum. He has written several articles on Islamic painting and arts for Prism Magazine published by the Ministry in different languages and has participated in preparing scientific texts for the catalogues for the Museum's exhibitions at home and abroad.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 18
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Mamluks | The Sultan and his Court
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