Name of Object:



London, England, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Victoria and Albert Museum

About Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Date of Object:

Around hegira 700 / AD 1300

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Brass inlaid with gold and silver.


Height 18.5 cm, diameter 42.5 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Cairo or Damascus.


A large brass basin with a wide everted rim, resting on three rounded feet. The surface of the basin is extensively decorated with both calligraphic and figural ornament inlaid in gold and silver; the decoration is unusually well preserved. The exterior decoration consists of a reciprocating floral design flanking an epigraphic band in six sections divided by small roundels with strap-work designs. The calligraphy, which is set above a floral arabesque design, reads: 'Glory to our master, the king, the royal, the learned, the just, the defender [of the faith], the champion [of Islam], the warrior [of the frontiers], the protector [of the frontiers], pillar of Islam and of the Muslims, protector of the weak and the poor, crown of kings and sultans, reviver of justice among all, defender of truth and proof. Glory and prosperity to the owner'. In contrast to the relatively restrained decoration on the exterior of the basin, the interior features a lively ensemble of figural decoration, including roundels with galloping riders, seated lunar figures, and rows of standing figures bearing arms. There are even ducks flying in and out of animated inscriptions. It is unclear just for whom such a splendid basin would have been produced, as the inscriptions, while fulsome, are ambiguous; while they include many standard royal benedictions, they do not mention a specific ruler or even use the word 'sultan'. The basin seems to have been made for the use of an anonymous, probably very wealthy patron.

View Short Description

A large brass basin with three rounded feet, decorated with gold and silver inlay comprising an extensive programme of calligraphic, floral and figural ornament. The inscriptions, while fulsome, are ambiguous and do not even include the word ‘sultan.’ Hence the patron remains anonymous.

How date and origin were established:

The style is that of early Mamluk metalwork, in which the motifs and techniques developed by the Ayyubids were carried on with great panache. Figural imagery, though, disappears from Mamluk metalwork by the middle of the 8th / 14th century, allowing us to place this basin around 700 /1300.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased by the Museum in 1898.

How provenance was established:

Cairo and Damascus were the two most important centres of art production under the Mamluks.

Selected bibliography:

Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, p.34.

Citation of this web page:

Barry Wood "Basin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;uk;Mus02;20;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 23


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period


On display in

MWNF Galleries

Calligraphy Metalwork

See also


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