Name of Object:



Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo

Date of Object:

Hegira 8th century / AD 14th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Copper inlaid with silver.


Height 17 cm, diameter (of the opening) 44 cm

Period / Dynasty:





This piece, a deep copper basin inlaid with silver, is decorated with an epigraphic band written in thuluth script whose text reads: 'Made for the honourable Excellency, the sublime master, the learned, the just, the warrior (of the frontiers), the defender (of the faith), the masterful, al-Sayfi Tabtaq al-Maliki al-Ashrafi.' The name carried by this vessel is linked to Amir Tabtaq, one of the officers under al-Malik al-Ashraf Khalil, who ruled from AH 689–93 / AD 1290–4. Tabtaq was the governor of Qus a city in Upper Egypt, during the third reign of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun (AH 709–41 / AD 1309–40). A number of blazons depicting a goblet, a symbol for the position of cupbearer, intermingle with the inscriptions. The inside centre base of the basin holds a design composed of six fishes arranged in a spiral format.
The basin was used for hand-washing and at times for washing clothes. During the Mamluk period, the wardrobe or storeroom for clothing was known as 'tast khana' meaning the 'abode of the basin' and all that was allotted to the sultans by way of basins, apparel, jewellery, swords, chairs and carpets was stored there. There were various types of basin and a variety of decorative styles, including gold and silver inlay, especially during the Mamluk period.

View Short Description

A basin would form a pair with a ewer as an indispensable item in hand-washing and cleanliness in general. This basin, inlaid with silver, bears the blazon of its owner, the cupbearer Amir Tabtaq.

How date and origin were established:

The basin was dated based on studies of the inscriptions which bear the name of Amir Tabtaq, one of the officers of al-Malik al-Ashraf Khalil, and a governor of the City of Qus during the reign of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun.

How Object was obtained:

The basin was uncovered during the course of archaeological excavations in 1966 at Qus.

How provenance was established:

This piece was produced in Egypt, for in addition to having been discovered in the Egyptian City of Qus, it was commissioned specifically for Amir Tabtaq. Furthermore, the inlay technique used on this basin is in the mode that flourished in Egypt during the Mamluk period. There are a number of pieces, acquired by museums, that have been made in an identical manner to this piece, and whose provenance has been attributed to Egypt.

Selected bibliography:

Abd al-Razzaq, A., “Al-Ranuq ala 'asr Salateen al-Mamalik [Blazons during the Mamluk period]”,in Majalat al-Jam'iya al-Tarikhiya [Journal of the Historical Association], Vol. 21, Cairo, 1974.
Allan, J., Metalwork of the Islamic world: The Aron Collection, London, 1986.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington D.C., 1987.
______, et al, Islamic Metalwork in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1985.
Fehervari, G., Islamic Metalwork of the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century in the Keir Collection, London, 1976.
Musilhi, S., Adwat wa Awani al-Matbakh al-Ma'adaniya fi al-'Asr al-Mamluki [Metal Implements and Tools of the Kitchen during the Mamluk Period], PhD thesis, University of Cairo, 1983.
Stierlin, H., and Stierlin A., Splendours of the Islamic World: Mamluk Art in Cairo (1250–1517), London, New York, 1997.

Citation of this web page:

Muhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim "Basin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;eg;Mus01;15;en

Prepared by: Muhammad Abbas Muhammad SelimMuhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim

He graduated from the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University in 1974 and received an MA on Abbasid Tiraz textiles from the same university in 1995. He has worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo since 1975. He attended a textile conservation course in Vienna while studying different collections at Austrian museums for five months. He co-authored the first catalogue of the Abegg Foundation in Bern in 1995, the catalogue of the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo and the forthcoming catalogue of the Egyptian Textile Museum. He lectured on Fatimid Art in Switzerland in 1997 and at the Ismaili Centre for Islamic Studies in London in 2003. He has classified and studied the Islamic collection at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, and is currently preparing to publish its catalogues.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation 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: ET 25


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