London, United Kingdom
Victoria and Albert Museum
Hegira 872–901 / AD 1468–96
Brass inlaid with silver and possibly copper.
Height 47.6 cm, width 36 cm
Probably Cairo, Egypt.
A large ewer, made of hammered sheet brass inlaid with silver, with a flaring mouth, rounded body, and spreading foot; a curved handle is joined to the neck and body, and the spout is long and thin with a polygonal end. A bulbous element, which may be a later addition, is attached to the neck. Other than the ring of raised (repoussé) trefoil motifs around the base of the neck, the decoration consists mostly of engraving and inlaid silver. While the handle and spout are adorned with simple arabesques, most of the neck and body of the ewer are given over to remarkable little scenes in which real and fantastic animals – including lions, deer, rabbits, birds, and even elephants – are depicted amidst palm trees and luxuriant plants. A large inscription around the top section of the body says that the ewer was made for the wife of Sultan Qaytbay, whose name, we know, was Fatima. Unlike the rest of the decoration, the inscription is not inlaid with silver; rather, the letters are left plain and polished, and the spaces between the letters are filled with simple, if tightly coiled, arabesques which provide a contrasting background. A second inscription, found on the underside of the foot, records that the ewer was made by someone named Ahmad.
The figural decoration on the ewer provides a fascinating contrast with the kind of decoration normally found on objects made during the reign of the pious Qaytbay, which tend to have bold calligraphy and/or abstract decoration, but no figural representation in keeping with the strictures of the orthodox. Examples include the brass basin made for the Sultan (UK2 13) or the minbar with his name on it (UK2 10). The figural imagery on Fatima's ewer surely indicates that it was a private commission, meant for her personal use. The scenes of animals amidst trees reflect imagery found in contemporary Arabic poetry and may be meant to evoke religious associations with the verdancy of Paradise.
A large brass ewer with decoration in inlaid silver. The decoration includes real and imaginary animals amidst trees and plants. The inscription states that the ewer was made for the wife of Sultan Qaytbay, and the presence of figural decoration suggests that it was for her private use.
Fatima, wife of Sultan Qaytbay
The inscription states that the ewer was made for the wife of Sultan Qaytbay, who ruled from 872–901 / 1468–96.
Purchased by the Museum in 1900.
It is probable that a royal commission would have been made in the capital.
Mayer, L., Islamic Metalworkers and Their Works, Geneva, 1959, p.27.
Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, p.56, p.90 and p.98.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pp.116–7.
Barry Wood "Ewer" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus02;21;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 24
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Women | The Private Lives of Muslim Women Figurative Art | Animal Representation
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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