Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)
Hegira late 8th–early 9th century / AD late 14th–early 15th century
Ebony and ivory with modern redwood beading.
Height 271.78, width 121.28 cm
A minbar panel with a modern redwood frame. Rectangular in shape, the panel contains a large, central field of original geometric elements executed in ebony and ivory, set within modern redwood beading. The design of the field involves two large vertically disposed star shapes at the centre, separated by a geometric quatrefoil design in between. This arrangement is flanked by two semi-stars on the sides and four quarter-stars in the corners. Any remaining spaces are filled with regularly disposed star motifs. All the major design elements in this overall composition, for example the stars and the quatrefoil, are in turn created from star shapes, angular drop shapes and a range of polygons, each one enhanced with a delicately carved arabesque design. At the top and bottom of the main field, two narrow, elongated ebony panels with ivory borders have been inserted. Each one carries the same Arabic inscription, rendered in thuluth script: ‘al-‘izz lillah mawlana al-sultan al-malik al-‘adil’, (‘Glory to God, our Lord, the Sultan, the King, the Just’).
Furnishings such as this panel were typically decorated with star and polygon patterns executed in different woods and ivory. This tradition, begun in the Ayyubid period, remained in use throughout the Mamluk period. Compositions comprise geometric designs issuing from a central star motif with the number of points varying from six to 16, forming a series of radiating polygons expanding from the core. This type of astral composition was fully developed by the early 8th / 14th century and became the most typical approach for woodwork decoration in the Mamluk era.
The method of construction used in this panel, along with other such objects of the period, allowed the wood to expand and contract according to variations in temperature and humidity. Furthermore, the patterns adopted in woodwork of the period echo contemporary Mamluk bookbinding and manuscript illumination executed for or commissioned by the Mamluk court and its officials. In addition to the intricately carved polygons and stars, the inscription panel executed in bold thuluth script is another distinctive feature of Mamluk woodwork, as indeed it is of Mamluk decorative arts in general.
Sophisticated woodwork with complex geometric designs executed in ebony and ivory and enhanced with delicately carved thuluth inscription panels was commissioned throughout the Mamluk period to enhance the furnishings of mosques, mausoleums and public buildings all over the Mamluk empire.
This minbar panel has been dated to between the late 8th–early 9th / late 14th–early 15th centuries on the basis of stylistic similarities with other Mamluk minbar and door panels, executed in wood, ebony and ivory, for example those seen in the V&A, London, the Islamic Museum in Cairo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Purchased from the Maurice Collection in 1884.
Items like this are thought to have been commissioned in Egypt by Mamluk patrons throughout the late 8th–early 9th / late 14th–early 15th centuries. This minbar panel is typical of carved wood minbars, screens, doors and shutters intended for mosques, mausoleums and other public buildings throughout the Mamluk Empire.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington D.C., 1981, p.202, cat. no. 99 (for a photograph of this piece); pp.208, cat. no. 104 (for related pieces); also pp.195–7 (for a general introductory essay on Mamluk woodwork).
Brend, B., Islamic Art, London, 1995, p.106, fig. 68.
Scarce, J., Domestic Culture in the Middle East: An Exploration of the Household Interior, Edinburgh, 1996, p.52 (for a photograph of this item).
Ulrike Al-Khamis "Minbar panel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus03;13;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 13
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Mamluks | The Wider World: Diplomatic Contacts and International Trade
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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