Hexagonal dinner stand
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 728 / AD 1327
Muhammad ibn Sunqur al-Baghdadi al-Sanqari.
Copper, inlaid with silver and decorated in filigree and openwork.
Height 81 cm, diameter 40.5 cm
This piece assumes the shape of a hexagonal (six-sided) pedestal upon which dinner trays would be placed; it is therefore known as a dinner stand. Its top surface, which is also hexagonal in shape, has a central circular decoration comprising a radiating inscription in a plaited kufic script. The radiating form of the inscription increases its decorative impact as it appears to simulate the rays of the sun coming from a central medallion, in which the artist has inscribed the name of Sultan al-Nasir Hasan ibn al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun, for whom this table was probably made. Framing the surface of this piece, is an inscription in Mamluk thuluth script which includes the name of the sultan and a number of his titles, it reads: 'Glory to our lord the Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir al-'Alam, al-'Adil, al-Mujahid, al-Murabit, al-Muthaghir, al-Mu'ayyad, al-Mansur, the Sultan of Islam and the Muslims, the Destroyer of Apostates and Infidels, the Reviver of Justice to all, the Protector of the oppressed against the oppressors, the Protector of the Muslim community, the Protector of worldly and spiritual matters, ibn al-Sultan al-Malik al-Mansur Qalawun Al-Salihi'. And surrounding these inscriptions along the interior are a series of lobed semi-circles decorated with flying ducks that are distinguished by their vitality and movement.
Each of the six sides of the pedestal's surfaces is comprised of four decorated panels arranged vertically one on top of the other. In the centre of one of these panels is a small door with two arched leafs which open to reveal an internal shelf. The panels are ornamented with openwork arabesque designs, composed of intertwining vegetal leaves and stems, lotus blossoms, and epigraphic inscriptions in thuluth script, on a background of openwork decorative motifs. The table has six short 'supports', posts that rest on the legs. A series of inscriptions are recorded on them, which indicate the name of the craftsman and his titles the English translation of which reads: 'Made by the poor slave hopeful of his God's forgiveness, known as the son of the teacher professor Muhammad, son Sunqur al Baghdadi al-Sanqari, in the year AH 728  in the days of our lord al-Malik al-Nasir, glory to his triumph'.
Such objects, although used extensively as stands for food trays, were also used to carry the Qur'an or torches at night in mosques or palaces, as well as to carry drinks, vases and incense burners. It is possible that this pedestal, which belonged to al-Nasir Muhammad, had been used to carry these types of items in his private palace or in his madrasa which was built on the street of the coppersmiths (Shari' Nahhāsin) in Cairo. This supposition is made more likely in view of the fact that the object was recovered from the Bimaristan (hospital) of al-Mansur Qalawun, which is adjacent to the Madrasa of al-Nasir Muhammad.
The dinner stand is one of the most valuable acquisitions in the collections of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo for it demonstrates the prolific production of metalwork in the Mamluk period. The importance of this particular piece stems from its having been crafted specifically for Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun, not to mention the fact that it contains the name of the craftsman who made it along with the date of manufacture. Its exceptional quality is magnified when its splendour and size are considered.
This type of table, made from metal or wood, was extensively produced during the Mamluk period in Cairo. It was used to hold food or items that need to be elevated from the floor. This table is made of brass inlaid with silver on which the name and titles of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad and the maker's name were inscribed.
Sultan al-Nasir Hasan ibn al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun who reigned three times: AH 693–4 / AD 1294–5; AH 698–708 / AD 1299–1309; AH 709–41 / AD 1309–40
This piece can be dated based on the inscription it carries, which includes the name of the craftsman who made it and the date it was manufactured. This is in addition to the inscriptions on the piece which specifically name Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun.
This piece was transferred from the Bimaristan of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun to the Museum of Islamic Art. It was one of the first pieces to enter the collections at the time of the inauguration of the Museum in 1903.
It is highly probable that the piece was crafted in Cairo, especially in view of the fact that it is decorated with epigraphic inscriptions in Mamluk thuluth script, a style prevalent in Mamluk pieces attributed to Egypt. Additionally, the design technique used in its manufacture and the decoration, closely resemble those used in a number of other objects known to have been made in Egypt, including a box (for a Qur'an manuscript) made of copper and inlaid with gold and silver, currently housed in the library of al-Azhar Mosque, which bears the name of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun and is dated 723 (1322). There is an almost identical box in the collections at the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, known to have been taken from a mosque in Cairo; this is inscribed with the name of the same craftsman as the pedestal under discussion here: Muhammad ibn Sunqur al-Baghdadi. There is also a silver inlaid candlestick currently in the collections of the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo (reg. no. 15080) which bears the name of Sultan al-Nasir ibn Muhammad ibn Qalawun.
Furthermore, in Cairo during the Mamluk period there was a suq dedicated to the manufacture and sale of inlaid metalwork. The author and historian al-Maqrizi refers to the market in his work al-Khitat (1853) as 'the suq of the inlay craftsmen' (Suq al-Koftiyin), which was located in a street that in present-day Cairo lies between al-Ghuriyya Street and al-Azhar Street. The market's documented presence further supports the supposition that this piece was crafted in Cairo.
Al-Maqrizi, Al-mawā'iz wa'l-i'tibār bi-dhikr al-khitat wa'l-āthār [Exhortations and Contemplation of the Recollection of Plans and Monuments], 2 vols, Cairo, 1853.
Al-Pasha, H., et al, Al-Qāhira,Tārikhuha, Fūnunuha, Āthāruha [Cairo: Its History, Arts and Monuments], Cairo, 1970.
Allan, J., Islamic Metalwork: The Nuhad Es-Said Collection, London, 1982.
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.
Stierlin, H. and Stierlin A., Splendours of the Islamic World: Mamluk Art in Cairo (1250–1517), London, New York, 1997.
Wiet, G., “Les Objets en Cuivre”, in Catalogue général du Musée arabe, Cairo, 1932.
Salah Sayour "Hexagonal dinner stand" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;2;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 02
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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