London, England, United Kingdom
Victoria and Albert Museum
Hegira 742 / AD 1341 or AH 762–4 / 1361–3
Brass inlaid with silver and gold.
Diameter 78.7 cm
Cairo or Damascus.
A large brass tray with extensive silver inlay, much of it now missing. The layout is a study in circles: the central motif, a geometric pattern itself derived from intersecting circles, is linked to three circles which divide the surrounding inscription into equal parts. Within this arrangement there are further circles within circles. The whole composition serves as a framework for no less than seven inscriptions, whose verticals, arranged like spokes within wheels, provide a striking and satisfying visual contrast. The largest inscription reads, 'Glory to our master the Sultan, the wise, the diligent, the just, the warlike king – may his victory be glorified'! The same sentiments are reflected in all the inscriptions, right down to the tiny roundels which proclaim, 'Glory to our master, the Sultan'! A bold use of inscriptions, in which a laudatory text becomes the main part of the decoration, is a hallmark of Mamluk art. Although the identity of the patron is not clear (see below), a magnificent tray like this would have been a valued adornment of his court.View Short Description
A splendid brass tray extensively inlaid with silver to form geometric and calligraphic decoration. The bold inscriptions are particularly striking, although the identity of the sultan they praise is ambiguous. Such a tray would undoubtedly have been used at court gatherings.
Possibly either of the Mamluk rulers Sultan Abu Bakr (r. AH 742 / AD 1341) or Sultan Muhammad (r. AH 762–4 / AD 1361–3)
The style of the tray is that of the mid-8th / 14th century. The specific identity of the patron is ambiguous; the inscriptions make reference to 'al-Malik al-Mansur', a regnal name which was used by two Mamluk sultans in this period: Abu Bakr (r. 742 / 1341) and Muhammad (r. 762–4 /1361–3).
Purchased by the Museum in 1854.
Cairo and Damascus were the two most important centres of art production under the Mamluks.
Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, p.97.
Barry Wood "Tray" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus02;16;en
Prepared by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK2 17
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Arabic Calligraphy | Civilisation of the Word
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)