Name of Object:



Rome, Italy

Holding Museum:

Museum of Civilisations | Museum of Oriental Art “Giuseppe Tucci”

 About Museum of Civilisations | Museum of Oriental Art “Giuseppe Tucci”, Rome

Date of Object:

Hegira 8th century / AD 14th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Brass inlaid with gold and silver.


Diameter 20cm

Period / Dynasty:



Egypt or Syria.


Wide-mouthed bowl with a slightly convex base. As in the majority of examples of this type of object, the decoration, which covers the whole of the outer surface, consists of a wide band, interrupted by medallions, made up of a series of scrolls bearing inscriptions in Mamluk cursive characters (nashki) known as thuluth. The underside decoration includes typical motifs, such as phoenixes in flight and peonies, peculiar to Mamluk metalwork, revealing the influence of Far Eastern naturalism tempered by its Iranian background.
The inscriptions, which offer a typical example of the titles used in Mameluk protocol for objects intended for high-ranking persons, include ‘al-maqarral-âli’ (High Excellency), ‘al-mawlawî’(the Master), ‘al-mâlikî’ (the Sovereign), ‘al-âdilî’ (the Just), ‘al-amîri’ (the Amir) and ‘al-mâmâlk’ (the Mamluk). The bowl probably belonged to an unknown high-ranking official of the sovereign’s court, who is referred to in one of the inscriptions.
The bottom of the inside of the bowl bears a particularly interesting motif made up of a series of fish in a whirlpool pattern. This is a very common decorative element in Islamic metalwork, particularly during the Mamluk period. The fish motif, as well as being obviously linked to the intended use of the piece (to hold water), probably also holds a special magical or symbolic significance as fish are bearers of good omens in the East and specifically in this case for the owner of the piece.

View Short Description

This bowl, used for holding water and decorated with inscriptions and zoomorphic motifs (fish and phoenixes in flight), is a good example of calligraphy being used for decoration and as a good omen in the Muslim world.

How date and origin were established:

This type of Islamic metalwork was quite widespread in the 8th / 14th century.

How Object was obtained:


How provenance was established:

This type of bowl is widespread in the Iranian as well as the Syrian/Egyptian spheres of influence.

Selected bibliography:

Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, 1981.
Baer, E., “Fish-pond Ornaments on Persian and Mamluk Metal Vessels”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 31, 1968, pp.14–27.
Safadi, Y. H., Islamic Calligraphy, London, 1979.
Scerrato, U., Metalli Islamici, Milan, 1966.
Torre, P., “Metalli Islamici”, Museo Poldi Pezzoli: Tessuti-Scultura-Metalli Islamici, Milan, 1987, pp.273–304.

Citation of this web page:

Paola Torre "Bowl" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019.;ISL;it;Mus01;1;en

Prepared by: Paola Torre
Copyedited by: Pier Paolo Racioppi
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: IT 01