This lamp’s inscriptions reveal that it was ordered for Aidakin’s mausoleum (turba), a building still standing in Cairo. Mamluk amirs adopted emblems, often connected with their ceremonial roles at court, which decorated the objects and buildings they commissioned. Here, the motif of two gold crossbows against a red shield illustrates the office of bunduqdar (bow‑keeper).
Enameled-and-gilded glass "mosque lamps" are among the most ambitious, distinctive, and sought-after products made in Egyptian and Syrian glass factories during the Mamluk period. Every mosque, madrasa, khanaqah (hospice), and mausoleum that flourished within the Mamluk sultanate would have required many, and in some cases dozens of, mosque lamps. Each holding a saucer filled with oil and water and a floating wick, they were suspended from the ceiling by means of long metal chains at just over a man’s height from the floor. The resulting "forest" of dimly lit lamps neatly arranged in rows—their light glowing through the gilt and the glassy enamels—must have been quite an impressive sight for worshipers entering a mosque.
The technique of enameling allowed glass workers extraordinary creative freedom, not only in decorating an object but also in adding inscriptions. Mosque lamps usually bore the most appropriate verses from the "Sura of Light" (Qur’an 24:35) and thus emphasized the luminous presence of God. Many inscriptions, however, blended religious and secular themes by also providing the name of the patron who commissioned the building. The present mosque lamp is somewhat unusual because it carries only a dedicatory inscription, copied around the neck in blue enamel and then again around the body in gold.
This historical inscription, a rare occurrence in glass studies, reveals much useful information and establishes the lamp as the earliest datable one from the Mamluk period. The keeper of the bow (bunduqdar) was a high-ranking officer of the complex Mamluk court system and had the right to display his own emblem, here appropriately illustrated as a stylized golden bow against a red background. "‘Ala’i" means that the bunduqdar, who had begun his career as a slave (as was common under the Mamluks), had maintained the patronymic of his first owner, the amir ‘Ala’ al-Din Aqsunqur. The patron of this lamp was undoubtedly Aydakin al- ‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar, who, according to one source, died in Cairo in June 1285.
The inscription reveals that the lamp was commissioned for Aydakin’s tomb (turba), which was erected about 1284 near the Citadel in Cairo as part of a complex that also included his daughter’s tomb and a khanaqah. The tomb chamber, a small room of about sixty-four square feet, still contains Aydakin’s wooden grave marker (tabut) and a keel-arched prayer niche (mihrab). This lamp was once suspended either directly over the tabut or in front of the mihrab as a testament to his life and social status.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, enameled-and-gilded mosque lamps became popular among European collectors, and a large number of them were taken from their buildings in Cairo and sold. J. P. Morgan, who donated this work to the Museum in 1917, had acquired it in 1904 through a Paris sale from Emile Gaillard, who was apparently its first European owner.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The bunduq, a term commonly translated as "hazelnut" in Arabic today, was a bow that propelled pellets (hence, "nuts") rather than arrows.
2. Mayer 1933, pp. 83–84.
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in thuluth script on neck and body:
ممما عمل برسم تربة المقر العالي/ العلائي البندقدار/ قدس الله روحه
From [the objects] that were made for the tomb of His High Excellency
al-‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar (the keeper of the bow), may God sanctify his soul
Emile Gaillard, Paris (until d. 1904; sale, Hôtel Gaillard,Paris, June 7–16, 1904, no. 579, to Morgan); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1904–d. 1913; his estate 1913–17; gifted to MMA)
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