Art/ Collection/ Art Object
{{img.publicCaption}}

Panel from a Rectangular Box

Object Name:
Panel
Date:
10th–early 11th century
Geography:
Spain, probably Cordoba
Culture:
Islamic
Medium:
Ivory; carved, inlaid with stone with traces of pigment
Dimensions:
H. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm) W. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Classification:
Ivories and Bone
Credit Line:
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1913
Accession Number:
13.141
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 457
This panel, carved from a single piece of ivory in a twice-repeating pattern, once adorned the side of a rectangular casket. The complexity of its decoration as well as the attention to details, such as the eyes of humans and animals, which were drilled and filled with minute quartz stones, demonstrate the refinement and the accomplishment of the caliphal ivory-carving workshop.
In their time, the royal quarters at Madinat al-Zahra, the caliphal court in al-Andalus, must have been a spectacular sight, with lavish architectural decoration; luxuriant curtains, textiles, and furnishings; and sumptuous objects. Elephant ivory, one of the favorite materials, was used mostly to create objects of small size that were made with painstaking attention to the details and quality of the carvings. In caliphal Spain, as far as is known, entire elephant tusks were not kept as trophies or symbols of power, nor were they turned into oliphants (see cat. 38, object 04.3.177a).

The most common small ivory object was the cylindrical box with a domed lid that is usually referred to as a pyxis (see cat. 37, object 30.95.175). Such boxes were carved from a piece of solid ivory taken from a section of the tusk that could be made into a container with straight walls. To create a square box — four sides plus a bottom and a lid — the panels of solid ivory needed to be flat; even larger tusks that would offer a usable cross section were then required.

At roughly four by eight inches (11 by 20 cm) and one half inch (1 cm) thick, this relief-carved flat panel may seem diminutive, but a wide portion of a tusk would have been needed for its production. It originally belonged to one of the panels of a square or rectangular casket, and the quality of its carving is nothing short of superb. The precision of detail, paired with the careful planning of the design, places the work among those few that continue to appear sharp and delicate under significant magnification. Features such as the minuscule shiny quartz stones embedded in the eyes of the figures and the red, green, and blue pigments highlighting the carved elements only increase one’s appreciation for this extraordinary work.

It has been suggested that the decoration of the plaque was inspired by contemporary textiles, and indeed the repeated units and density of its design recall patterns found in woven textiles and embroidery. The main features of the composition— the playful paired dancing figures facing each other on either side of a stylized tree and the paired predatory birds, peacocks, and jackals — strongly recall older traditions from Late Antiquity as well as contemporaneous ones from early medieval southern Europe. The general pattern, however, is quintessentially Islamic: allover decoration and harmonious symmetry within a subtle geometric division of the space. The excellent parallels it finds in the carved-stucco and stone architectural decorations from Madinat al-Zahra testify to the current decorative taste at the caliphal court.

Stefano Carboni (author) in [Ekhtiar et al. 2011]
[ Jacques Seligman, Paris, until 1913; sold to Blumenthal for MMA]
Granada. Alhambra. "Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain," March 18–June 7, 1992.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain," July 1–September 27, 1992.

Aanavi, Don. "Western Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 27, no. 3 (November 1968). p. 199, ill. (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 7 (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 29, ill. fig. 17 (color).

Dodds, Jerrilynn D., Dr., Oleg Grabar, Antonio Vallejo Triano, Daniel S. Walker, Renata Holod, Cynthia Robinson, Juan Zozaya, Manuel Casamar Perez, Christian Ewert, Guillermo Rossello Bordoy, Cristina Partearroyo, Sabiha Al Khemir, Dario Cabanelas Rodriguez, James Dickie, Jesus Bermudez Lopez, D. Fairchild Ruggles, and Juan Vernet. Al-Andalus : The Art of Islamic Spain, edited by Dr. Jerrilynn D. Dodds. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. no. 6, p. 203, ill. (color).

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 315, ill. fig. 9 (color).

Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 80, ill. (color).

Ali, Wijdan. The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art : From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Centuries. Jordan: The Royal Society of Fine Arts, Jordan, 1999. p. 111, ill. fig. 64 (b/w).

Makariou, Sophie, Juan Zozaya, Abderrazzak Zakzouk, Cristobal Gonzalez Roman, Pierre Guichard, Marthe Bernus-Taylor, Gabriel Martinez-Gros, Danielle Jacquart, Hamid Triki, Christian Poche, and Abdesselam Cheddadi. Les Andalousies de Damas a Cordoue. Institut du Monde Arabe, 2001. no. 105, p. 123, ill. (color).

Galan y Galindo, Angel. "Catalogo De Piezas." In Marfiles Medievales Del Islam. vol. 2. Cordoba: Publicaciones Obra Social Y Cultural Cajasur, 2005. p. 64, ill. fig. 02014.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 36, pp. 54, 67-68, ill. p. 67 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 114-115, ill. pl. 20 (color).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 127, ill. (color).



Related Objects

Cylindrical Box (Pyxis)

Date: 10th century Medium: Ivory; carved Accession: 30.95.175 On view in:Gallery 457

Incense Burner

Date: 11th century Medium: Bronze; cast, chased, and pierced Accession: 67.178.3a, b On view in:Gallery 457

Qur'an Case

Date: second half 15th century Medium: Leather; embroidered with gilt-silver wire Accession: 04.3.458 On view in:Gallery 457

Column

Date: 1350–1400 Medium: Marble; carved Accession: 56.234.18a–d On view in:Gallery 456

Column

Date: 1350–1400 Medium: Marble; carved Accession: 56.234.20a–d On view in:Gallery 456