Name of Object:



London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

The British Museum

About The British Museum, London

Date of Object:

About hegira 692–743 / AD 1293–1341

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Brass inlaid with silver and gold.


Height 22.7 cm, diameter (of rim) 54 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Egypt or Syria.


A spectacular piece of Mamluk metalwork in the form of a large basin with a flared rim, covered inside and out with silver and gold inlay decoration. A striking thuluth inscription surrounds the central panel of the bowl giving the name and titles of the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun, who ruled between AH 692 and 743 / AD 1293 and 1341. This basin is one of a number of metalwork vessels from this period featuring bold inscriptions as the main decorative element. The principal inscription is set against arabesques whose tendrils transform into ducks or birds. Dividing the inscription are three medallions filled with lotus flowers, and a small epigraphic blazon in the centre that reads: ‘Glory to our master, the sultan’. Above and below this central panel are two friezes of floral scrolls alternating with six roundels containing further inscriptions.
The presence of lotus blossoms and peonies derives from chinoiserie designs, imported by the Mongols in Iran; these floral designs are also found in Iranian art at this time. The inscription around the rim of the interior reads: ‘Glory to our master, the Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir the wise, the efficient, the warrior, the champion of the faith, the defender Nasir al-Dunya wa’l-Din Muhammad ibn Qalawun, may his victory be glorious’. Large basins such as this one were used for a number of ceremonial functions. However, the circling fish in the base suggest that this basin was used as an ablution vessel.

View Short Description

A large brass basin covered in silver and gold inlay, probably used as a vessel for ritual ablutions. A bold inscription band around the body of the basin is the main decorative feature, and displays the name and titles of the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir al-Din Muhammad ibn Qalawun (AH 692–743 / AD 1293–1341).

Original Owner:

Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun

How date and origin were established:

The object is inscribed with the name Sultan Nasir al-Din Muhammad (r. 692–743 / 1293–1341). He was a great patron of the arts, commissioning many buildings as well as numerous fine objects; this object was made during his reign.

How Object was obtained:

Acquired by the British Museum in 1851.

How provenance was established:

The basin would have been made in Egypt or Syria as both countries were under the rule of the patron, Sultan Nasir al-Din Muhammad.

Selected bibliography:

Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, D.C., 1981, p.89–90, cat. no. 26.

Barrett, D., Islamic Metalwork in the British Museum, London, 1949, plate no. 28.

Phillips, T., (ed.) Africa: The Art of a Continent, London, 1996, p.587.

Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.111–3, fig. 88.

Citation of this web page:

Emily Shovelton "Basin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;uk;Mus01;28;en

Prepared by: Emily ShoveltonEmily Shovelton

Emily Shovelton is a historian of Islamic art. She studied history of art at Edinburgh University before completing an MA in Islamic and Indian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since graduating she has worked on a number of projects at the British Museum. Other recent work includes editing and writing for a digital database of architectural photographs at the British Library. She is currently working on a Ph.D. on “Sultanate Painting in 15th-century India and its relationship to Persian, Mamluk and Indian Painting”, to be completed at SOAS in 2006. A paper on Sultanate painting given at the Conference of European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, held in the British Museum in July 2005, is due to be published next year.

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: UK1 33


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