A limited number of basins were produced with this distinctive scallop-shaped edge during the Ilkhanid period in Iran. Its intricately inlaid surface, worked entirely in gold and silver, comprises figural imagery within a radiating geometric framework. Musicians, courtiers, and polo players are among the diverse and lively inhabitants of its interior. Considering its celebration of courtly pastimes, intricate drawing, and high-quality craftsmanship, this basin was likely created for a patron of high status.
Called tasht or lagan, large hand basins such as this are documented in the eastern Islamic world from the late twelfth century onward. Yet the distinctive scalloped form of this basin appears to have been specifically produced under the Ilkhanid dynasty, as seen in a similar example datable to about 1300–1320, now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The decoration, which was once entirely inlaid with gold and silver, covers the interior of the basin and is organized in concentric bands. Radiating from a central sun-shaped medallion, the registers contain depictions of servants, seated musicians playing instruments, courtiers and attendants, and five enthroned figures flanked by hunters and polo players (a motif that appears twice, once on the base and once on the wall of the basin). Additional details include images of birds on the crenellated border, addorsed griffins and human-headed winged animals, and high-stem flowers distributed in the interstitial spaces created by an intricate geometric grid used to frame the decoration. Although inscribed in separate registers and medallions, and thus used as individual decorative units, the characters are thematically related. They all belong to the princely cycle, a group of themes illustrating royal life and pastimes. Courtly subjects were recurrent motifs on sumptuous inlaid brasses and ceramic vessels produced for aristocratic patrons. In a few instances, the objects employ motifs directly inspired by literary texts that celebrated royalty, as in the case of the Victoria and Albert’s basin, which is decorated with scenes from the story of Bahram Gur, narrated in both Firdausi’s Shahnama (Book of Kings) and Nizami’s Khamsa (Quintet). In most instances, however, the decoration consists of standardized formulas such as enthronement scenes, musical entertainments, and outdoor activities comparable to those ingeniously combined in the present vessel. The choice of these motifs, their detailed execution, and the use of fine materials indicate that this object was probably produced in a royal workshop. Francesca Leoni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. An example from Ghazni is discussed in Melikian-Chirvani, A[ssadullah] S[ouren]. Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, Eighth–Eighteenth Centuries. London, 1982, pp. 61 – 63. 2. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (no. 546-1905), published in ibid., pp. 202–7, no. 93, in Carboni and Komaroff 2002, pp. 179–80, and p. 280, no. 169, and in Ward 1993, p. 87, pl. 66. 3. See, for example, the late thirteenth-century brass basin signed by ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdallah al-‘Alawi al-Naqqash al-Mawsili currently in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (no. I-6581), or the fourteenth-century tray now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Tbilisi (no. 48/I). Both are discussed and reproduced in Komaroff 1992, pp. 10–11, figs. 2 and 4.
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