Name of Object:

Kohl Container


Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo

Date of Object:

Hegira 8th–9th century / AD 14th–15th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Ivory inlaid with niello.


Length 22 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Egypt, probably Cairo.


A kohl container that is composed of a stretched hollow ivory prism-like body, comprising a hexagonal cross-section divided into six planes. At both ends of the body are two decorative forms, one of which is in the shape of a flower on the brink of unfurling. Each face of the six identical sides is decorated with six rosettes, each of which is made up of six petals. Each of the rosettes is separated from its neighbour by two triangular shapes which conjoin at their tips. Each plane in turn is separated from the other, by a thin decorated band.
This container was used as other kohl vials were during the period to put kohl in to the eyes in order to beautify them as well as to medically treat them. In fact the title of kahhal (eye doctor) was given to those who specialised in treating eyes. The use of kohl was widespread in Egypt from the Pharonic period onwards, and was made from raw copper, lead and from burning the saffron plant. Kohl vials were made from copper, silver and glass in addition to ivory.

View Short Description

Muslim women paid great attention to their appearance and tools like this kohl container were used for beautification or health of the eyes. Kohl containers were made in a variety of forms and materials such as brass, silver, and glass. The kohl itself was prepared from copper, lead and burnt saffron plant.

How date and origin were established:

This container was dated by means of studying the geometric decorative components and the six-petalled flower decorative units, both of which decorative motifs appear on many Mamluk metallic and wooden objects preserved in museum collections and private archaeological collections in Egypt or abroad.

How Object was obtained:

The container was bought from the antiquities dealer, Muhammad Zahir in 1913.

How provenance was established:

A great number of glass kohl containers, still containing the remains of kohl, have been found during the course of archaeological excavations carried out in the City of Fustat in Egypt. It is likely that the object was produced in a workshop in Cairo.

Selected bibliography:

Abdel Azim, R., and Sayour, S., “Parfums et cosmétiques dans le monde arabo-musulman”, Catalogue d'exposition, Cairo-Paris-Marseilles, 2002.
Hamdi, A. M., Mu'addat al-tajmil bi-mathaf al-Fan al-Islami [Cosmetic Implements at the Museum of Islamic Art], Cairo, 1959.

Citation of this web page:

Muhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim "Kohl Container" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;eg;Mus01;6;en

Prepared by: Muhammad Abbas Muhammad SelimMuhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim

He graduated from the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University in 1974 and received an MA on Abbasid Tiraz textiles from the same university in 1995. He has worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo since 1975. He attended a textile conservation course in Vienna while studying different collections at Austrian museums for five months. He co-authored the first catalogue of the Abegg Foundation in Bern in 1995, the catalogue of the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo and the forthcoming catalogue of the Egyptian Textile Museum. He lectured on Fatimid Art in Switzerland in 1997 and at the Ismaili Centre for Islamic Studies in London in 2003. He has classified and studied the Islamic collection at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, and is currently preparing to publish its catalogues.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: ET 09


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