Name of Object:
Great lantern of al-Mu‘izz
Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Date of Object:
Hegira 424–43 / AD 1032–51
Artist(s) / Craftsperson(s):
Muhammad, son of Ali al-Qaysi al-Saffar (‘the metalworker’).
Museum Inventory Number:
B Z 501
Material(s) / Technique(s):
Moulded, perforated bronze.
Height 118 cm, diameter (max) 51.5 cm
Period / Dynasty:
The lantern is made up of a bronze hook supporting a shallow-domed hemispherical basin with an outwardly inclined upper rim. Attached to the six-faceted outer sides of the basin are three perforated chains with geometric and stylised floral decoration in the form of tracery and tri-lobed leaves. This is a common type of decoration in Middle-Age Kairouan. The chains support the large hammered-brass basin, which is shaped like a circular vase and allows light to shine through the myriad perforations. At the lowest point of the basin a six-point star has been punched out. This is surrounded by three inscriptions, one around the collar; another between the ring supports and a third circling the star. On the first strip, kufic calligraphy proclaims: 'Praise be to God … May he bestow blessings, good fortune, happiness, success, prosperity, health and glory on all who embrace Him.' On the circumference of the base is inscribed: 'The work of Muhammad son of Ali al-Qaysi al-Saffar [the metalworker] for al-Mu'izz.' This lantern closely resembles a mosque lamp kept at the Chicago Art Institute and a lantern of Persian origin belonging to the David collection in Copenhagen (Denmark). Both date from the AH 4th or 5th centuries (AD 11th century). All the evidence suggests that the lantern of al-Mu'izz, which lit up the Great Mosque of Kairouan, is an example of Byzantine–inspired craftsmanship, which was in vogue throughout the Arabic-Islamic world during the AH 4th and 5th centuries (AD 10th and 11th).
View Short Description
Used to light the Great Mosque of Kairouan, this lantern is an example of Byzantine-inspired craftsmanship fashionable in Arab-Islamic society in the AH 4th–5th / AD 10th–11th centuries. A bronze hook supports a shallow basin from which three chains suspend a large circular brass basin perforated with holes for light.
Prince al-Mu’izz ibn Badis
How date and origin were established:
The last inscription states that the lantern was a gift from the Zirid prince, al-Mu'izz ibn Badis (r. 406–54 / 1016–62) to the Great Mosque of Kairouan. This donation could be contemporaneous with the legacy of the Mudawwana volumes, the work of the great Sunni legal expert Sahnun ibn Said (160–240 / 777–855), from the same prince to the Great Mosque of Kairouan in 424 / 1032. It was certainly before the Hilalian invasions of 443 / 1051.
How Object was obtained:
After the founding of the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada in 1986 it was decided to return this lantern, which was on display at the Bardo Museum, to its original location.
How provenance was established:
This lantern was part of the furniture of the Great Mosque of Kairouan. It was specially made by a lamp-maker for the reigning Zirid prince, so it was probably fabricated in a Kairouanese workshop.
Marçais, G. and Poinssot, L., Objets Kairouanais, XI, fasc. 2, Tunis, 1952, pp.411–33.
Citation of this web page:
Mourad Rammah "Great lantern of al-Mu‘izz" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;15;en