Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)
Hegira 746–7 / AD 1346–7
Enamelled glass and gilt.
Height 38.10 cm, diameter 26.04 cm
Syria; made for export to Egypt.
An enameled glass and gilt mosque lamp with a wide flaring mouth and a squat globular body, a steeply sloping shoulder and flattened base. The body rests on a tall pedestal foot. Six applied loop handles are placed around the shoulder at regular intervals. The lamp holds extensive enamelled decoration on the mouth, body and foot, enhanced by gilding; the mouth having a large Qur’anic inscription in thuluth script executed in blue enamel and outlined in red. The inscription is interrupted by three roundels containing a fleur-de-lys blazon in red against a white background. The base of the mouth shows a delicately drawn scroll-band interrupted by cusped floral cartouches.
The top of the shoulder displays a narrow band with cusped floral medallions, while the main part of the body has a wide inscription band in thuluth script that reads, translated: ‘This is one of the objects made for his most noble and high Excellency, the learned, the just, the administrator, the councilor, the regent, the vizier Najm al-Din Mahmud ibn Ali ibn Shirwin, the officer of al-Malik al-Muzaffar (Hajji), regent of the noble Islamic provinces, may Allah the Exalted make his victories glorious’. The inscription, set against a blue background, is interrupted by six lozenge-shaped areas that hold the trailed suspension loops.
The underside of the body has further fleur-de-lys roundels and floral detailing. The foot (half of which is a replacement) holds a succession of five horizontal bands filled with abstract scrolling that alternates, linearly, with thickly drawn detailing. The horizontal bands are interrupted by three lozenge-shaped medallions that hold abstract vegetal motifs.
The lamp dates exactly to AH 746–7 / AD 1346–7, during the short reign of al-Malik al-Muzaffar Hajji. Interestingly, the donor Najm al-Din Mahmud ibn Ali ibn Shirwin, did not begin his career as a slave contrary to usual practice. It is known that he arrived in Cairo in AH 737 / AD 1337, having been a vizier (a minister) in Baghdad. The red fleur-de-lys on his lamp is his heraldic device. Najm al-Din’s lamp is especially important because it appears to be the earliest example of a fleur-de-lys used as the badge of an official, a motif previously reserved only for sultans.
Glass mosque lamps with enamelled decoration were commissioned in large numbers by the Mamluk elite in Egypt and Syria. Decorated with Qur’anic inscriptions and the titles of the patron, they were destined for the numerous mosques and madrasas endowed by the Mamluks throughout Cairo and the empire.
Najm al-Din Mahmud ibn Ali ibn Shirwin
The lamp was commissioned by an officer of al-Malik al-Muzaffar Hajji, who reigned for less than two years between 746–47 / 1346–7.
Purchased by the NMS from the Major W. J. Myers Collection in 1900.
Mamluk mosque lamps of this type are generally ascribed to Syria, where they were made for export to Mamluk Egypt.
Carboni, S., Glass from Islamic Lands, London, 2001 (for discussion on related mosque lamps and Mamluk glass).
Carboni, S., and Whitehouse, D., Glass of the Sultans, New York, 2002 (for discussion on related mosques lamps and Mamluk glass).
Eremin, K., and Al-Khamis, U., ‘Mamluk and Pseudo-Mamluk Glass in the National Museums of Scotland’, in Annales du 15e Congrès de l’Association Internationale pour l’Histoire du Verre, New York, 2003.
Piotrovsky, M. B., and Vrieze, J., Earthly Beauty – Heavenly Art: Art of Islam, exhibition catalogue Amsterdam, 1999, p.75 cat. no. 10 ( for another mosque lamp attributed to al- Muzaffar Hajji).
Ulrike Al-Khamis "Mosque lamp" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus03;15;en
Prepared by: Ulrike Al-KhamisUlrike Al-Khamis
Ulrike Al-Khamis is Principal Curator for the Middle East and South Asia at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. She began her academic career in Germany before completing her BA (1st class Hons) in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 1987. The same year she moved to Edinburgh, where she completed her Ph.D. thesis on “Early Islamic Bronze and Brass Ewers from the 7th to the 13th Century AD” in 1994. From 1994 to 1999 she worked as Curator of Muslim Art and Culture for Glasgow Museums and, in 1997, was one of the main instigators of the first ever Scottish Festival of Muslim Culture, SALAAM. Since 1999 she has been based at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, where she has curated several exhibitions and continues to publish aspects of the collections. In addition to her museum work she has contributed regularly to the teaching of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Edinburgh.
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: UK3 15
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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