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  • Place of origin:

    Granada (Probably, made)
    Spain (made)

  • Date:

    1400-1450 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood covered in micromosaic decoration in bone and other woods

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Monsieur Stanislas Baron

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY7, shelf CASE2

The design on this fragmentary ten-sided casket consists of an interlacing geometric pattern based on eight-pointed stars. Green stars are set at the heart of an intricate mosaic of minute squares and rhomboids, of different-coloured woods and bone, both in its natural colour and stained green with copper compounds. In the places where the decoration is missing, we can see that it was stuck directly to the surface of the wood, and that each tiny element was individually attached in the manner of a mosaic.

This decorative technique was a characteristic of woodwork made in Islamic Spain during the Nasrid period (1238-1492). The technique is called taracea in Spanish, deriving from the Arabic word tarsi‘, meaning ‘incrustation’. The same word became tarsia in Italian, indicating that it was also introduced to the language via the original Arabic. The technique that developed in Italy, when intarsia began to be made there in the mid-fourteenth century, was slightly different. This involved forming a block from rods of different materials (often including silver) shaped into triangles or squares; these were glued together longitudinally, and thin tiles were sawn off the end. These tiles were then stuck to a wooden surface, which was either at, or in which a hollow had been carved to receive them, in the shape of the nished design (probably the origin of the term ‘in-tarsia’). It is highly likely that the technique of intarsia was introduced into Italy from Islamic Spain, following a pattern parallel to that of lustre ceramics that were commissioned by Italian patrons direct from Spanish potteries.

The technique of sawing tiles from rods of clustered materials was also practised in Nasrid woodwork: a pair of cupboard doors in the Museo de la Alhambra in Granada (inv. 190) combines both techniques, with the more labour-intensive mosaic incrustation used all over the exterior face of the doors and their surround, and intarsia used sparingly on the less visible interior face. It was rare to use this decorative technique for something so large as a pair of doors: normally taracea was used on smaller-scale objects, especially caskets.

These doors came from the Palacio de los Infantes (Palace of the Princes), a large residence in the vicinity of the Great Mosque of Granada by the powerful Venegas family, who were close to the Nasrid court. Their palace was probably built in the early fteenth century, coinciding with the height of this family’s inuence. The extremely ne decoration of the doors provides a catalogue of Nasrid taracea motifs, and by comparison, the V&A’s casket can reasonably be attributed to Granada during the rst half of the fteenth century.

The V&A’s casket is a unique example of a taracea object with this shape. Other hexagonal or octagonal caskets are known, some with incrusted decoration. But the V&A casket is also unusual for its large size, which makes it less portable than the other similar objects which are smaller and also probably later in date. The lip around the top edge of the casket shows that it was once fitted with a lid. Two slotted panels made of bone are inserted into one of the interior walls of the casket, indicating where a compartment may once have been fitted. Since no other parallels exist, it is not currently possible to suggest the original function of this casket.

Physical description

Ten-sided casket with fragmentary decoration in incrustation of different-coloured woods and bone, both in its natural colour and stained green with copper compounds.

Place of Origin

Granada (Probably, made)
Spain (made)


1400-1450 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Wood covered in micromosaic decoration in bone and other woods


Length: 16.2 cm, Width: 24.1 cm

Object history note

V&A Archival Record from 1895: Box of wood; ten sided, each side overlaid with a geometric lattice work pattern in bone, partly stained green and woods of different colours to form compartments filled with stars and other geometric devices. Hispano-Moresque, 15th century. Given by Monsieur Stanislaus Baron.

Descriptive line

Ten-sided casket, Spain, Granada (probably), Nasrid period, 1400-1450

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Mariam Rosser-Owen, Islamic Arts from Spain (London: V&A Publishing, 2010), plate 55, pp. 64-66.

Labels and date


Probably Spain (Granada)

Carcase: softwood with walnut additions
Veneer: bone and various woods on paper backing
Studs: silver
Traces of paint

Given by Monsieur Stanislas Baron
Museum no. 270-1895

The geometric decoration on this casket is only 1.5mm thick. Before being glued in place, it was composed on paper, traces of which are visible where losses have occurred.

The design consists of at least seven pre-formed motifs, made using the sliced-bundle technique (see right). Tiny gaps are filled individually. [01/12/2012]


Islam; Woodwork


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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