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Box and lid

  • Place of origin:

    Syria (probably, made)

  • Date:

    middle of 13th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bronze, with copper and silver inlay

  • Museum number:

    320-1866

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 6 []

This little casket reveals both the diversity of 13th-century Syria and the difficulty of defining a concept of ‘Islamic’ art. The techniques and motifs used are found on Islamic metalwork at this period, such as the scrolling arabesques and running animals in the borders. The human figures, too, are depicted in an ‘Islamic’ fashion. But they are clearly Christians, because they swing censers and carry crosses in a baptismal procession. The lid of the casket is a later addition.

Physical description

Cylindrical bronze box and lid, inlaid with copper and silver. The decoration on the box is divided into three registers, separated by plain bands. In the largest, central register are figures wearing Christian apparel and carrying crosses and censers; the scene is thought to depict the ordination of a priest (shown kneeling). The top register features a band of rotating arabesques, while the bottom register is inhabited by a group of animals running leftward.

The lid is inlaid with an elaborate interlace pattern forming 'stars' around copper and silver studs, as well as an Arabic inscription round the perimeter of the top and a pseudo-inscription around the outside. The lid probably comes from another vessel.

Place of Origin

Syria (probably, made)

Date

middle of 13th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Bronze, with copper and silver inlay

Dimensions

Height: 8.5 cm, Diameter: 8.3 cm

Object history note

Acquired in Spain.

Historical context note

This pyxis is an example of a group of objects featuring Christian iconography which appear during the 13th century. All of them have been attributed to workshops in Syria and Egypt on the grounds that a number of formal devices common to those areas during the first half of the 13th century are characteristic of these objects. The figures are precisely drawn, they have sharp undercut edges and they are usually set against elaborately worked backgrounds of tight arabesques, scrolls or interlacing swastikas. Also characteristic of this group is the fact that their iconographic repertoire, while Christian in theme, departs from the established pictorial traditions of the medieval Christian world. This is due to the political environment of the area in which they were made, and in fact their decorative program is quite typical of Ayyubid Islamic iconography.

Descriptive line

Cylindrical pyxis and cover with depiction of Christians, brass inlaid with silver, Syria, mid-13th century

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

R. Katzenstein and G. Lowry, "Christian Themes in Thirteenth Century Islamic Metalwork," Muqarnas 1 (1983), pp. 53-68.
Tim Stanley ed., with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004; pp. 29, 38, 97, plate 52
Eva Baer, Ayyubid Metalwork with Christian Images, Studies in Islamic Art and Architecture (Supplements to Muqarnas) vol. 4, Leiden, 1989, pp. 13-14, 32-33 and plates 38, 105.
D. S. Rice, 'The Brasses of Badr al-Din Lu'lu',' Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 13 (1950): 631-32.
Boehm, B. D., and Holcomb, M. (eds.) Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) 2016. pp.266-268. p.109

Labels and date

Box and cover
Bronze, inlaid with copper and silver, Syrian, 14th c.

The figures around the body are depicted wearing Christian costume.
The lid was probably from another vessel.
Acquired in Spain. [pre 2002]

Materials

Brass (alloy); Copper; Silver

Techniques

Hammering; Soldering; Inlay; Damascening

Subjects depicted

Priests; Cross; Christianity; Thurible

Categories

Islam; Christianity; Metalwork

Collection

Middle East Section

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