Name of Object:

Lunch box


London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

The British Museum

About The British Museum, London

Date of Object:

Hegira 9th / AD 15th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Brass; engraved and originally tinned.


Height 18.4 cm

Period / Dynasty:





Three circular brass containers of identical size that stack on top of one another, topped with a lid; the tin layer now worn off. Originally, there would have been metal shafts on each side to hold the parts together. Cartouches around the edge of each container bear inscriptions or geometric patterns. These oblong cartouches alternate with roundels containing a geometric arrangement of repeated Y-shaped motifs. A line from a poem that was popular on metalwork objects of this period is quoted in the inscription cartouches: 'I have a shape which is full of beauty and meaning. Whoever concentrates on my beauty will find me a pleasure for the eye'. Each of the containers would have held a different food, and the lid would have served as a bowl. It is interesting that even such a humble object is beautifully engraved.

View Short Description

A container made of three circular brass bowls stacked on top of each other and topped with a lid. This object was used to transport food; each container would have held a different food with the lid serving as a bowl.

How date and origin were established:

Tinned objects became increasingly popular in Iran in the 9th / 15th century, as a less expensive option to inlaid brass. At the same time Mamluk metalworkers also adopted this technique, primarily for objects such as lunch boxes, plates and large dishes.

How Object was obtained:

Acquired by the British Museum in 1908.

How provenance was established:

Tableware objects, such as this lunch box, were produced for Mamluk patrons who could not afford silverware or inlaid brasses. These objects are inferior in quality to the group associated with Sultan Qaytbay (872–901 / 1468–96), produced in Cairo. Therefore, they were probably produced in Damascus, away from the main court.

Selected bibliography:

Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.117–9, plate 95.

Citation of this web page:

Emily Shovelton "Lunch box" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;uk;Mus01;32;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 40


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period


On display in

Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

The Mamluks | Everyday life in the Mamluk Sultanate

MWNF Galleries

Calligraphy Metalwork

See also


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