Name of Object:

Spice box


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 9th century/ AD 15th century

Museum Inventory Number:

A. 1870.27.3

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Incised brass with silver inlay.


Height (with cover) 7.62 cm, diameter 13.97 cm

Period / Dynasty:





A circular spice box made from brass that is incised and inlayed with silver. The container is original but the lid is a replacement, a fact verified by the decoration on the lid being distinctly different to that on the container. The lid is decorated with concentric bands surrounding a roundel in the centre. The roundel contains an arabesque quatrefoil with secondary leaf motifs surrounded by a band of leafy scrolling. The pattern is interrupted by three roundels with motifs of eight-pointed stars, created from trefoils and leaf motifs, and issuing from a central lozenge motif. A broader band occupies the main part of the lid; it contains 12 complex interconnected knot motifs that are separated from each other by vertically disposed, twisted-rope designs. The composition issues from pseudo-kufic elements above and below. The outermost band repeats the decorative scheme of the border around the central roundel, but on this occasion it is interrupted by six roundels rather than three. The container displays a guilloche around the upper body. Below, separated from the guilloche by a ridge, the main part of the body has four large roundels with scrolling borders, filled with alternating arabesque scrolls and a coat of arms. The areas in between the roundels are filled alternately with a three-knot design, issuing from pseudo-kufic elements top and bottom, or a geometric interlace pattern, rising from a pseudo-kufic base and terminating in trilobal motifs. The lower body is enhanced by a band of leafy scrolling, interrupted by four roundels with quatrefoils.

View Short Description

During the AH late 8th–9th / AD late 14th–15th centuries Mamluk metalworkers developed a range of wares specifically for the European market and decorated to European taste, a fact borne out by the appearance of European coats of arms and blazons on many examples. This box conveyed expensive spices to the West.

How date and origin were established:

Containers such as this one were made specifically for the European market during the late 8th– 9th/ late 14th–15th centuries, a fact borne out by the appearance of European coats of arms and blazons on other examples of the period.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased from W. Wareham, London, in 1870.

How provenance was established:

Pieces like this are known to have been made in the Mamluk realm, probably Damascus, during the Mamluk period.

Selected bibliography:

Atil, E., Art of the Arab World, Washington D.C., 1975, p.148, cat. no. 80.
Curatola, G., (ed.) Eredita dell’ Islam: Arte Islamica in Italia, Venice, 1993, p.486, cat. no. 303; p.487, cat. no. 304.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, p.115, fig. 92.

Citation of this web page:

Ulrike Al-Khamis "Spice box" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;uk;Mus03;23;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 23


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