Name of Object:



Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)

About Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS), Edinburgh

Date of Object:

Hegira late 9th century / AD late 15th century

Museum Inventory Number:

A. 231.14

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Incised copper with bituminous inlay.


Diameter (at base) 20 cm

Period / Dynasty:





A circular copper basin with steep sides widening towards a slightly rounded base. The mouth is surrounded by a narrow, flat rim that projects outwards and which has an angular ridge running beneath it. The body of the vessel is decorated with a horizontal band terminating in a frieze of downward pointing lancet leaves above the base. The upper part of the band contains eight cusped roundels alternating with six decorated rectangles. The roundels contain geometric fretwork, alternating with a debased blazon. Inside the blazon is a central pen-case motif. In between the blazons are rectangular areas: two of which are a densely set lattice of split-palmette motifs; four of which are crude (pseudo?) inscriptions in thuluth script on a cross-hatched background; and a further two with a guilloche design, incorporating a central loop, flanked by scroll bands at the top and bottom. At the base is a band of geometric interlacing which is interrupted by eight whirling rosette motifs. The entire composition is enclosed by a continuous plain border, which also forms the roundels and loops.
The profound economic crisis of the late Mamluk period had drastic consequences for the metalworking industry. Artisans had to resort to metals and techniques that were less costly to produce; these were fashioned from copper, sometimes tinned, and enhanced with incised designs that were highlighted with a black bituminous substance rather than the traditional gold and silver inlays that were in use in more prosperous times.

View Short Description

By the AH late 9th / AD late 15th century, Mamluk metalwork had declined due to enormous economic pressures and the precious silver-and gold-inlaid brass vessels of the past had been replaced by much cheaper copper items, decorated only with incising and a black bitumous substance, as on this basin.

How date and origin were established:

By the late 9th / late 15th century the Mamluk metalworking industry was in decline and, under enormous economic pressure, the dynasty was in a state of collapse. The precious, silver- and gold-inlaid brass vessels seen at the height of Mamluk power were replaced by much cheaper copper items with incised decoration inlaid with a black bituminous substance. Both the composition and the decorative themes used on this basin are typical of Mamluk metalwork during the decline of the dynasty and continuing into the early 10th / early 16th century.

How Object was obtained:

A gift from the Science and Art Department in 1858.

How provenance was established:

Pieces similar to this one are known to have been made in Egypt during the early 10th / early 16th century.

Selected bibliography:

Curatola, G., (ed.) Eredita dell’ Islam: Arte Islamica in Italia, Venice, 1993, p.320, cat. no. 186 (for a similar basin).

Citation of this web page:

Ulrike Al-Khamis "Basin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;uk;Mus03;21;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 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: UK3 21


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