Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)
Hegira late 9th century / AD late 15th century
Incised copper with bituminous inlay.
Diameter (at base) 20 cm
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.
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had declined due to enormous economic pressures and the precious silver-and gold-inlaid brass vessels of the past had been replaced by much cheaper copper items, decorated only with incising and a black bitumous substance, as on this basin.
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.
A gift from the Science and Art Department in 1858.
Pieces similar to this one are known to have been made in Egypt during the early 10th / early 16th century.
Curatola, G., (ed.) Eredita dell’ Islam: Arte Islamica in Italia, Venice, 1993, p.320, cat. no. 186 (for a similar basin).
Ulrike Al-Khamis "Basin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;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 Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK3 21