Name of Object:



Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Holding Museum:

Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS)

 About Royal Museum, National Museums of Scotland (NMS), Edinburgh

Date of Object:

Hegira late 9th century / AD late 15th century

Museum Inventory Number:

A. 231.14

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Incised copper with bituminous inlay.


Diameter (at base) 20 cm

Period / Dynasty:





A circular copper basin with steep sides widening towards a slightly rounded base. The mouth is surrounded by a narrow, flat rim that projects outwards and which has an angular ridge running beneath it. The body of the vessel is decorated with a horizontal band terminating in a frieze of downward pointing lancet leaves above the base. The upper part of the band contains eight cusped roundels alternating with six decorated rectangles. The roundels contain geometric fretwork, alternating with a debased blazon. Inside the blazon is a central pen-case motif. In between the blazons are rectangular areas: two of which are a densely set lattice of split-palmette motifs; four of which are crude (pseudo?) inscriptions in thuluth script on a cross-hatched background; and a further two with a guilloche design, incorporating a central loop, flanked by scroll bands at the top and bottom. At the base is a band of geometric interlacing which is interrupted by eight whirling rosette motifs. The entire composition is enclosed by a continuous plain border, which also forms the roundels and loops.
The profound economic crisis of the late Mamluk period had drastic consequences for the metalworking industry. Artisans had to resort to metals and techniques that were less costly to produce; these were fashioned from copper, sometimes tinned, and enhanced with incised designs that were highlighted with a black bituminous substance rather than the traditional gold and silver inlays that were in use in more prosperous times.

View Short Description

By the AH late 9th / AD late 15th century, Mamluk metalwork had declined due to enormous economic pressures and the precious silver-and gold-inlaid brass vessels of the past had been replaced by much cheaper copper items, decorated only with incising and a black bitumous substance, as on this basin.

How date and origin were established:

By the late 9th / late 15th century the Mamluk metalworking industry was in decline and, under enormous economic pressure, the dynasty was in a state of collapse. The precious, silver- and gold-inlaid brass vessels seen at the height of Mamluk power were replaced by much cheaper copper items with incised decoration inlaid with a black bituminous substance. Both the composition and the decorative themes used on this basin are typical of Mamluk metalwork during the decline of the dynasty and continuing into the early 10th / early 16th century.

How Object was obtained:

A gift from the Science and Art Department in 1858.

How provenance was established:

Pieces similar to this one are known to have been made in Egypt during the early 10th / early 16th century.

Selected bibliography:

Curatola, G., (ed.) Eredita dell’ Islam: Arte Islamica in Italia, Venice, 1993, p.320, cat. no. 186 (for a similar basin).

Citation of this web page:

Ulrike Al-Khamis "Basin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021.;ISL;uk;Mus03;21;en

Prepared by: Ulrike Al-Khamis
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: UK3 21