Name of Object:

Two mosque lamps

Location:

London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

The British Museum

About The British Museum, London

Date of Object:

Hegira mid-7th century/ AD mid-14th century

Museum Inventory Number:

OA+521 and G.497

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Enamelled and gilded glass.

Dimensions:

Height 53 cm, diameter (at base) 14 cm, diameter (at top) 26 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Mamluk

Provenance:

Egypt.

Description:

Two glass mosque lamps with globular body and flared neck, decorated with enamel and gilt. Around the body is a bold inscription, while roundels exhibiting a cup emblem alternating with calligraphy surround the neck. The inscriptions around the body of both these lamps state that they were made for Sayf al-Din Shaykhu al-‘Umari, a prominent amir for Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad. Shaykhu achieved the status of commander-in-chief of the palace and then Great Amir before being assassinated in AH 759 / AD 1357. The roundels around the neck and the underside of body contain a cup motif, the blazon of Shaykhu, indicating that he held the post of cup-bearer. The neck is inscribed with the Qur’anic verse 24:35, known as the ‘Light’ verse: ‘God is the Light of heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is a niche, wherein is a light, the light in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star’.
Mamluk lamps with their non-figurative decoration, and inscriptions of Qur’anic verses, were mostly intended for religious buildings, hence the term ‘mosque lamp’. However, there are some lamps of the same shape from this period that would have been used in a secular setting. These lamps are part of a group of extant lamps probably made for the mosque Shaykhu commissioned in AH 750/ AD 1349, or for the sufi hostel (khanqa) he had built soon after in AH 756/ AD 1355, situated at the foot of the Citadel in Cairo.

View Short Description

A pair of glass mosque lamps decorated with enamel and gilt. Around the body are medallions containing the cup emblem, the heraldic symbol belonging to the patron Sayf al-Din Shaykhu al-‘Umari, who was cup-bearer for Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad.

Original Owner:

Amir Shaykhu

How date and origin were established:

Embellished with the blazon of Shaykhu these lamps were probably made for one of the religious buildings he commissioned; a mosque in 750/ 1349 and a khanqa in 756/ 1355. Shaykhu rose to prominence in the 740s / 1340s, and helped re-instate Sultan al-Nasir Hasan on the throne in 754 / 1354. Thenceforth Shaykhu effectively ruled the Mamluk Empire until he was assassinated in 758/ 1357. These mosque lamps probably date to the mid-7th / mid-14th century when he was at the height of his powers.

How Object was obtained:

One of the lamps (OA+521) was bequeathed by Felix Slade in 1868; the other (G.497) was part of the Godman Bequest of 1983.

How provenance was established:

The objects are embellished with the blazon of Shaykhu (amir of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad in Cairo, Egypt), and inscribed with his name, it is probable, therefore, that these lamps were made for one of the religious buildings that Shaykhu commissioned.

Selected bibliography:

Brend, B., Islamic Art, London, 1991, p.113.

Phillips, T. (ed.), Africa: The Art of a Continent, London, 1996, p.591.

Pinder-Wilson, R., "The Islamic Lands and China", Five Thousand Years of Glass (ed. H. Tait), 1991, p.135, fig. 168.

Citation of this web page:

Emily Shovelton "Two mosque lamps" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus01;24;en

Prepared by: Emily ShoveltonEmily Shovelton

Emily Shovelton is a historian of Islamic art. She studied history of art at Edinburgh University before completing an MA in Islamic and Indian art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since graduating she has worked on a number of projects at the British Museum. Other recent work includes editing and writing for a digital database of architectural photographs at the British Library. She is currently working on a Ph.D. on “Sultanate Painting in 15th-century India and its relationship to Persian, Mamluk and Indian Painting”, to be completed at SOAS in 2006. A paper on Sultanate painting given at the Conference of European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, held in the British Museum in July 2005, is due to be published next year.

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: UK1 28

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