Writing Box thumbnail 1
Writing Box thumbnail 2
+69
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery

Writing Box

1280s (made), 1302-1303 (made)
Place of origin

The lid of this pen box carries the name and titles of Sultan Dawud of Yemen. He was a member of the Rasulid dynasty, which had close connections with the Mamluk sultans of Cairo. They may have sent the box as a gift.

The box bears the Rasulid badge of a five-petalled rosette, which has been inlaid over an earlier device of an eagle with outstretched wings. This later work took place either in Yemen or Egypt.

Metalworkers often transformed objects made from brass by adding sophisticated inlaid surface ornament. For larger motifs, they chiselled out small areas of brass and filled them with thin sheets of silver, gold and copper. They added detail by chasing the surface of the softer metals created contrast with a black filler, as on this piece.


Object details

Categories
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 4 parts.

  • Writing Box
  • Inkwell
  • Inkwell
  • Sand Box
Materials and techniques
Brass inlaid with gold and silver and a black compound
Brief description
Rectangular writing box, brass, inlaid with silver, gold and a black material, made, probably in Cairo, for Sultan Da'ud of Yemen (r. 1296–1321) and dated AH 702, equivalent to AD 1302–3, with internal elements from an earlier inlaid brass writing box, attributed to the 1280s, as well as other parts of a much later date, including two custom-made inkwells and a sand box, the hinges and the fastening also of a much later date.
Physical description
Rectangular writing box, brass, raised from sheet, engraved and inlaid with gold and silver and a black compound, the silver chased with additional details. The decoration includes repeated use of the large rosette that was the heraldic device of the Rasulid dynasty of Yemen, the name and titles of Sultan Da'ud (r. 1296-1321), and the date 702 in the Muslim calendar, equivalent to 1302–3. Interior elements were re-used from an earlier writing box made for the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun (r. 1279–1290) or a member of his family, probably in the 1280s. The interior was reconfigured at a much later date, when two custom-made inkwells and a sand box were inserted. The hinges and the fastening device (a staple and a hasp) are also of a later date.

Dimensions
  • Height: 12.5cm
  • Length: 34.5cm
  • Diameter: 17.7cm
When open
Style
Production typeUnique
Marks and inscriptions
  • A. On top of the lid عزّ لمولانا السلطان الملك المؤيّد العالم العادل هزبر الدنيا والدين داوود بن مولانا السلطان الشهيد الملك المظفّر
  • B Around the sides of the lid عزّ لمولانا السلطان الملك المؤيّد العالم العادل المجاهد المرابط المثاغر هزبر الدنيا والدين داوود بن مولانا السلطان (ا)لشهيد الملك المظفّر ابن مولانا السلطان الشهيد الملك المنصور عزّ نصره عُملت في سنة إثنين وسبعمائة
  • C On the inside of the lid عزّ لمولانا السلطان الملك المؤيّد العالم العادل هزبر الدنيا والدين داوود عزّ نصره
  • D On the base of the box, inside إذا ما شئت أن تحيا حياة سهلة المحيا فلا تحسد ولا تحقد ولا تغتر بالدنيا
Gallery label
Jameel Gallery Writing Box Egypt Dated 1302 The lid carries the name of Sultan Dawud of Yemen. His dynasty, the Rasulids, had close connections with the Mamluk sultans of Cairo, who may have sent the box as a gift. Either in Yemen or Egypt, the Rasulids' badge, a five-petalled rosette, was inlaid over an earlier device, an eagle with outstretched wings. Brass with inlay of silver, gold and a black composition; the ink pots and sand pot are later replacements Museum no. 370 to C-1897(Jameel Gallery)
Object history
Provenance
Purchased in Istanbul in 1897 from Mrs Alice Whitaker, daughter and heir of William Henry Wrench (1836-96). Wrench was British consul in the city when he died, and he had formed a significant collection of Ottoman and Iranian objects while in the consular service. For images of how Wrench displayed his collection in his home in the Pera (Beyoğlu) district of the city, see V&A: PH.331 to 334-1892.
Summary
The lid of this pen box carries the name and titles of Sultan Dawud of Yemen. He was a member of the Rasulid dynasty, which had close connections with the Mamluk sultans of Cairo. They may have sent the box as a gift.

The box bears the Rasulid badge of a five-petalled rosette, which has been inlaid over an earlier device of an eagle with outstretched wings. This later work took place either in Yemen or Egypt.

Metalworkers often transformed objects made from brass by adding sophisticated inlaid surface ornament. For larger motifs, they chiselled out small areas of brass and filled them with thin sheets of silver, gold and copper. They added detail by chasing the surface of the softer metals created contrast with a black filler, as on this piece.
Bibliographic references
  • Rachel Ward, “Green or Mean? Mamluk vessels recycled for the Rasulid sultans”, in Art, Trade and Patronage in the Islamic World and Beyond. From the Fatimids to the Mughals. Studies presented to Doris Behrens-Abouseif, edited by Alison Ohta, J.M. Rogers and Rosalind Wade-Haddon, London, 2016, 36–47.
  • Noha Sadek, "Red Rosettes: Colors of Power and Piety in Rasulid Yemen", in Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, editors, And Diverse are Their Hues: Color in Islamic Art and Culture, New Haven and London, 2011, pp.222-243.
Collection
Accession number
370-1897

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Record createdJanuary 13, 2005
Record URL
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