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Casket

Casket

  • Place of origin:

    Spain (made)
    Cordoba (or, made)
    Cuenca

  • Date:

    1000-1025 (made)
    17th century-18th century (altered)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory, with silver mounts

  • Museum number:

    10-1866

  • Gallery location:

    Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery, case 2E

This casket was modified in the 17th or 18th century, when the silver mounts were added. This is perhaps when the inscription, which would have run along the band at the bottom of the lid, was removed. Nevertheless, the iconography of this casket can be closely related to the Pamplona casket (now in the Museo de Navarra), which was made for 'Abd al-Malik, the son of the 'Amirid regent Al-Mansur. The Pamplona casket can be dated to 1004/1005 by the use of particular titulature in the patron's name. It also bears a number of stylistic similarities - especially in the representation of the animals - with the carved ivories of the taifa period, which were made at Cuenca (near Toledo) from the 1020s through to the 1060s. This casket therefore provides an interesting transitionary piece between the Caliphal/'Amirid ivory industries and that of the taifa period, and it is a great pity that its inscription does not survive to tell us more about itself.

Its original use is suggested by the inscription on another casket, now in the collection of the Hispanic Society in New York, which reads: 'I am a receptacle for musk, camphor and ambergris', although its owner might equally appropriately have kept jewellery or other valuables in it. The subject matter of the roundels on the front - pairs of seated figures playing musical instruments and holding drinking vessels - shows the importance among the high classes of Cordoban society of this period of poetic soirées, at which much wine was drunk and poems improvised to the accompaniment of music. The favoured setting for such gatherings was the beautifully-cultivated gardens of palaces and suburban villas.

Many of the most important pieces of the great collection of medieval ivory carvings at South Kensington were purchased between 1865 and 1876. While the majority of these were Christian, the Islamic tradition was not neglected. John Charles Robinson bought this casket in León in 1866, and on the same trip to Spain he acquired in Madrid another, smaller ivory casket (Mus. no. 301-1866), with an inscription showing that it was made in about 962 for a daughter of the late caliph, Abd al-Rahman III.

Physical description

Ivory casket, with later engraved silver mounts, probably 17th or 18th century. The casket's original inscription has been removed at a later date. The entire surface of the casket is carved with scenes of paired animals of various kinds, set within circular medallions; however, the two medallions on the front of the casket contain human figures drinking and playing music in a garden setting. The iconography of this side of the casket is very close to the equivalent side of the Pamplona casket (now in the Museo de Navarra), made for 'Abd al-Malik, the son of the 'Amirid regent Al-Mansur. The Pamplona casket can be dated to 1004/1005 by the use of particular titulature in the patron's name. This casket is thus probably later than it in date, and bears a number of stylistic similarities - especially in the representation of the animals - with the carved ivories of the taifa period, which were made at Cuenca (near Toledo) from the 1020s through to the 1060s. This casket therefore provides an interesting transitionary piece between the Caliphal/'Amirid ivory industries and that of the taifa period, and it is a great pity that its inscription does not survive to tell us more about itself.

Place of Origin

Spain (made)
Cordoba (or, made)
Cuenca

Date

1000-1025 (made)
17th century-18th century (altered)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory, with silver mounts

Dimensions

Height: 26.8 cm, Length: 26.2 cm, Depth: 16.2 cm

Object history note

The original inscription has been removed at a later date. The engraved silver mounts are probably 17th or 18th century.

Descriptive line

Carved ivory casket with silver mounts, Spain (Córdoba or Cuenca), 1000-25.

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

Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 191p., ill. ISBN 1851771883.
The Arts of Islam, Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery, 8 April - 4 July, 1976, The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1976. Catalogue entry 149, p.152
Ferrandis, J. Marfiles de Occidente, tomo I, 1935, /tomo II, 1940, Madrid. I, no. 22, pl. XLI-XLIV
Beckwith, J. Caskets from Córdoba, London, 1960.p.29f, pl. 27-30
Kuhnel, E. Die Islamischen Elffenbeinskulpturen VIII-XIIIFh, Berlin, 1971. P.44, no. 37, pl.XXVIII.
Tim Stanley ed., with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004; p. 80, 82, plate 95
Jenkins, M. "Al-Andalus: Crucible of the Mediterranean," The Art of Medieval Spain A.D. 500 - 1500 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), New York, 1993, pp. 95-96 (cat. no. 40).

Labels and date

CASKET
Ivory.
HISPANO-ARABIC (CORDOBA); early 11th century.
The engraved silver mounts are probably of the 17th or 18th century. []
Ivory Casket
Spain, Córdoba or Cuenca
1000-25

Pairs of animals fill most of the large roundels. The exceptions include two on the front that show court life at its most refined. The men drink wine and enjoy the scent of flowers while listening to music.

The Arabic inscription around the lid has been removed, but the casket can be dated to the early 11th century from the style of decoration. During this period, the Umayyad caliphate collapsed, and the main centre of ivory carving moved to Cuenca, near Toledo.

Carved ivory; nielloed silver mounts probably 18th century

Museum no. 10-1866 [Jameel Gallery]

Materials

Ivory

Subjects depicted

Animals; Drinking vessels; Birds; Musicians

Categories

Islam

Collection

Middle East Section

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