Fragment of woven silk
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)
Hegira 872–901 / AD 1468–96
Length 41.91 cm, width 24.13 cm
From a tomb at al-Drounka, Egypt.
A blue silk woven with a quatrefoil design, bordered by inscriptions, and a polyfoil occupying the spaces in between. The inscription, written in Arabic reads: ‘Honour to al-Ashraf’. The development and chronology of Mamluk textile design has yet to be clearly defined. Mamluk silks and other textiles are exceedingly rare, and many of those that have survived have been retrieved from excavations of burials in Upper Egypt. Precious silks were used in the production of honorary robes, diplomatic gifts and high-class articles produced especially for export. Striped silks were particularly popular, and frequently the names and titles of sultans were incorporated into the design. Areas of Production for textiles such as this one included Asyut, a town in Upper Egypt, well-known for its high-quality linens and silks. Silks inscribed with the benediction ‘Honour to al-Ashraf’ are amongst the latest datable fabrics of the Mamluk era, the V&A in London holding several fragments with this feature.
It has been suggested that fabrics such as this one may have been produced during the reign of Sultan Qaytbay (AH 872–901 / AD 1468-96), whose official titles included ‘al-Ashraf’. Interestingly, blue textiles were often worn by dhimmis (the religious minorities)in the Mamluk period. Thus, a Coptic bishop buried at Qasr Ibrim in Upper Egypt, for example, was found wrapped in a blue-black woolen cloak.
Mamluk silks are rare, but we know that they were used in the production of honorary robes, diplomatic gifts and high-class articles produced for export. Many bear the names and titles of sultans and this piece is assumed to have been produced during the reign of Sultan Qaytbay (AH 872–901 / AD 1468–96).
Mamluk silk fragments bearing the inscription ‘Honour to al-Ashraf’ are assumed to have been produced during the reign of Sultan Qa’itbay (872–901 / 1468–96). Stylistically, motifs on this silk fragment can also be compared with those occurring on contemporary metalwork.
This piece together with several other Fatimid fragments were acquired by the NMS from Henry Wallis in 1898. Wallis was a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter, who travelled and painted extensively in Egypt and elsewhere. Subsequently he became a highly respected expert on Egyptian and Persian ceramics.
This item was retrieved from a tomb at al-Drounka, Egypt and can be classified as having been produced in Mamluk Egypt on the basis of stylistic comparison with other Mamluk textile fragments.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington D.C., 1981, pp.224–5. (for discussion on Mamluk textile production).
Ulrike Al-Khamis "Fragment of woven silk" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus03;12;en
Prepared by: Ulrike Al-KhamisUlrike Al-Khamis
Ulrike Al-Khamis is Principal Curator for the Middle East and South Asia at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. She began her academic career in Germany before completing her BA (1st class Hons) in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 1987. The same year she moved to Edinburgh, where she completed her Ph.D. thesis on “Early Islamic Bronze and Brass Ewers from the 7th to the 13th Century AD” in 1994. From 1994 to 1999 she worked as Curator of Muslim Art and Culture for Glasgow Museums and, in 1997, was one of the main instigators of the first ever Scottish Festival of Muslim Culture, SALAAM. Since 1999 she has been based at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, where she has curated several exhibitions and continues to publish aspects of the collections. In addition to her museum work she has contributed regularly to the teaching of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Edinburgh.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK3 12