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Pyxis

  • Place of origin:

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

  • Date:

    ca. 964 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory, with nielloed metal mounts

  • Museum number:

    217-1865

  • Gallery location:

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

This small ivory box is a pyxis. This type of box has a cylindrical body and a domed lid. This example has carved openwork decoration of stylised plants and four eagles in a heraldic pose. Ivories of this kind were produced in Spain during the 10th and 11th centuries. At this time most of the country was under the rule of Muslim Arabs of the Umayyad dynasty.
According to the inscription around the lid, this example was made at the command of the Umayyad caliph al-Hakam II (ruled 961- 976). It is one of only two surviving objects known to have been made for him. The chief eunuch, Durri al-Saghir, who supervised the work, was also responsible for another object, known as the Zamora pyxis. Al-Hakam commissioned this second piece in 964 for his favourite wife, Subh. It was probably a gift to celebrate the birth of their son in the previous year. The inscriptions on the two ivories are very similar, suggesting they were commissioned as a pair. The pyxis in the V&A has unusual openwork carving on its lid. It was presumably designed to hold perfumed substances, and the scent would have wafted through the holes. The metal mounts for the hasp and the hinge were probably added at a later date. They are decorated with niello. This is a technique in which the decorator uses black inlay to fill the hollow design in a metal surface.

Physical description

Ivory pyxis with carved openwork decoration on the top of the lid and the side of the base and an inscription carved in relief around the side of the lid. The openwork on the base takes the form of stylized vegetation, while on the lid it also includes four "heraldic" eagles. Metal mounts forming a hasp and a hinge, probably added at a later date, are decorated with niello.

Place of Origin

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

Date

ca. 964 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory, with nielloed metal mounts

Marks and inscriptions

'Grace from God unto the servant of God al-Hakam al-Mustansir bi-llah, Commander of the Faithful. [This is one] of [the objects] he ordered to be made under the direction of Durri al-Saghir.'
Inscription; decoration; Arabic; Arabic (style known as floriated Kufic); around the side of the lid; carved

Dimensions

Height: 7 cm, Diameter: 10 cm

Object history note

Made for the second Umayyad Caliph of Al-Andalus (Spain), al-Hakam II (961-976), son of 'Abd al-Rahman III.

Descriptive line

Ivory container with openwork decoration, Spain (probably Córdoba), about 964.

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

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.17.4.

Labels and date

Ivory Container
Spain, probably Córdoba
About 964

The inscription around the lid begins with a prayer for Abd al-Rahman III's successor, the caliph al-Hakam II. A similar prayer appears on a casket made for al-Hakam's wife in 964. This container probably held a scented substance. The pierced lid and sides allowed the perfume to circulate.

Carved ivory with silver and niello mounts

Museum no. 217-1865 [Jameel Gallery]

Materials

Ivory; Metal

Techniques

Carved; Niello

Subjects depicted

Eagles

Categories

Islam

Collection

Middle East Section

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