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  • Place of origin:

    Madinat al-Zahra (probably, made)
    Cordoba (probably, made)

  • Date:

    961-965 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory, with mounts and clasp of chased and nielloed silver

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

This small ivory casket has carved decoration of stylised plants. It covers the sides of the base and the top of the lid. Around the sides of the lid there is an Arabic inscription composed in a decorative style of script known as 'floriated Kufic'. The silver hinges and hasp may well be original. They are decorated in niello. This is a technique in which the decorator uses black inlay to fill the hollow design in a metal surface.

Ivories of this kind were produced in Spain during the 10th and 11th centuries. At this time most of the country was ruled by Muslim Arabs of the Umayyad dynasty. The inscription tells us that this casket was made for the daughter of the Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Rahman III. His name is followed by a short prayer said only for the deceased. We can therefore date the casket to the period after the caliph's death in 961.

One theory suggests that this type of decoration consisting entirely of plants, with its associations with fertility, was suitable for objects owned by women. Yet the same type of decoration appears in the carved marble wall panels of the reception hall in Madinat al-Zahra. This hall was used only by men and was part of the huge palace complex 'Abd al-Rahman built near Cordoba. Designers therefore used the same style of decoration in different media. This suggests at the very least that there was some central control in the production of all the decorative arts at this time.

This casket is probably a pair with A.580-1910, which was made at the same time for the same daughter of 'Abd al-Rahman III. The commission may have commemorated a significant event in her life, such as a marriage or birth of a son.

Physical description

Rectangular ivory casket with carved decoration in the form of stylized vegetation on the sides of the base and the top of the lid and an inscription in the "floriated Kufic" style on the sides of the lid. Mounts and clasp of chased silver inlaid with niello, which may well be original.

Place of Origin

Madinat al-Zahra (probably, made)
Cordoba (probably, made)


961-965 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory, with mounts and clasp of chased and nielloed silver

Marks and inscriptions

'In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is what was made for the young lady, the daughter of 'Abd al-Rahman, Commander of the Faithful -- May God's mercy and favour be his!'
Inscription; decoration; Arabic; Arabic (in the style known as floriated Kufic); around the side of the lid; carved

السيد (sic) بسم الله هذا ما عمل الابنة (front side)
ة ابنة عبد الرحمن ا (left short side)
المؤمنين رحمة الله (sic) ميو (back)
عليه ورضوانه (right short side)
In the name of God, this is what was made for the daughter, the lady, the daughter of 'Abd al-Raḥmān, Commander of the Faithful, may God's mercy and favour be his!
The reading of this casket's inscription was revised in July 2014 by María Antonia Martínez Núñez of the University of Málaga. See attached PDF with her reading and discussion (in Spanish).


Length: 9.5 cm, Height: 4.3 cm, Width: 6 cm

Object history note

Made for an unnamed daughter of the Spanish Umayyad caliph Abd al-Rahman III, who died in 961.

Descriptive line

Carved ivory casket with decoration in the form of stylized vegetation, Spain (probably Córdoba), about 962.

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

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. 396p., ill. ISBN 0 7287 0081 6 paper bound, 07287 0080 8 cloth bound. Catalogue entry 146, p.151
Ferrandis, J. Marfiles de Occidente, tomo I, 1935, /tomo II, 1940, Madrid. I, no. 2, pl. II
Beckwith, J. Caskets from Córdoba, London, 1960.p. 6f, pl. 2
Kühnel, E. Die Islamischen Elfenbeinskulpturen VIII-XIII Jh, Berlin, 1971. P.32f, no. 20, pl.VIII.
Tim Stanley (ed.), with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004
Mariam Rosser-Owen, 'The Metal Mounts on Andalusi Ivories: Initial Observations', in Venetia Porter and Mariam Rosser-Owen,(eds) Metalwork and Material Culture in the Islamic World, London and New York, 2012, pp.301-16, Fig.17.5.
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.

Labels and date

Ivory Caskets
Spain, probably Córdoba
About 962

Both caskets were made for an unnamed daughter of the caliph Abd al-Rahman III. He died in 961, and as his name is followed by a prayer for the dead, the caskets must have been produced after this date. The leafy scrollwork resembles that on the walls of the caliph's palace at Madinat al-Zahra.

Carved ivory with silver mounts, and with copper-gilt and niello mounts

Museum nos. 301-1866; A.580-1910: Bequest of George Salting [Jameel Gallery]


Ivory; Silver


Carved; Chased; Niello




Middle East Section

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