Name of Object:



London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Victoria and Albert Museum

About Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Date of Object:

About hegira 390–410 / AD 1000–1020

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved ivory (engraved silver mounts added later).


Height 26.8 cm, width 26.2 cm, depth 16.2 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Spanish Umayyad


Probably Córdoba.


An ivory casket with a truncated pyramidal lid, consisting of 12 carved ivory panels (four for the box, eight for the lid). Some pieces are missing, probably removed when the European silver mounts were added to the object in the 17th or 18th century. There was also originally an inscription below the lid, but at some point it was removed and replaced with blank strips. The casket’s panels are beautifully carved with a total of 15 large medallions in an interlacing framework. Some of these depict seated figures drinking or playing musical instruments; two others show a hunter and a falconer, and another one shows a figure riding in a howdah on what seems to be a camel. The rest of the medallions feature birds and animals, including lions, hares, elephants, deer, and imaginary animals like griffins and winged lions. Many of these are shown in confronted pairs. The areas around and between the medallions are filled with yet more birds and animals, making this casket a lively little 11th-century bestiary. This casket may have been used as a storage-box for jewelry by a member of the royal court.

View Short Description

A casket made up of 12 ivory panels (the silver mounts were added by a later, European owner). The panels are intricately carved with depictions of people enjoying themselves in an outdoor setting. The casket may have been used by a member of the Spanish Umayyad court to store jewellery.

How date and origin were established:

The casket’s original inscription is missing, but the details of drinkers and musicians are similar to those in the Pamplona Casket (now in the Museo de Navarra), which is dated AH 395 / AD 1004–5. Other details of this casket are reminiscent of ivories carved between AH 417–41 / AD 1026–49 in Cuenca, near Toledo. It thus points to a period of transition from the style of the Umayyad period to that of the taifa period.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased by the Museum in León, Spain, in 1866.

How provenance was established:

Córdoba was the centre of Umayyad Spain.

Selected bibliography:

Beckwith, J., Caskets from Córdoba, London, 1960, pp.29–30 and plates 27–30.

Jenkins, M., "Al-Andalus: Crucible of the Mediterranean", The Art of Medieval Spain AD 500–1500 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), New York, 1993, pp.95–6, cat. no. 40.

Kühnel, E., Die islamischen Elfenbeinskulpturen VIII.–XIII. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1971, pp.44–5, no. 37.

Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, pp.80–81.

Citation of this web page:

Barry Wood "Casket" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024.;ISL;uk;Mus02;4;en

Prepared by: Barry WoodBarry Wood

Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.

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: UK2 04


 Artistic Introduction

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Islamic Dynasties / Period

Umayyads of al-Andalus

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