Large glass lamps of this type were commissioned by sultans and members of their court for mosques, madrasas (Qur'anic schools), tombs, hospices, and other public buildings in fourteenth-century Mamluk Cairo. This example bears the name of its patron, Qawsun (d. 1342), amir of the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalaun (r. 1293–1341 with brief interruptions), and was probably intended for one of his two architectural commissions in Cairo—a mosque or a tomb-hospice complex.
Large and impressive glass lamps such as this one in the shape of footed vases with enameled decoration and suspension rings attached around their body were commissioned by sultans and members of their court for mosques, madrasas (Qur'anic schools), tombs, hospices, and other public buildings in 14th-century Mamluk Cairo.
Dedicated to Qawsun (d. 1342), an emir of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalaun (r. 1293–1341 with brief interruptions), this lamp was probably intended for one of his two architectural commissions in Cairo: the mosque (completed in 1329 and now mostly in ruins) or the tomb-hospice complex completed in 1335, of which only the minaret survives. The lamp's decoration is organized in registers. The neck bears part of the verses from the Qur'an's "Chapter of Light," which aptly uses the metaphor of a glass lamp to describe the divine light of God. The body features formulaic and benedictory inscriptions in bold cursive thuluth script, which recalls the inlaid metalwork with epigraphic decoration popular during the long reign of al-Nasir Muhammad.. This lamp bears the name of the patron, Amir Qawson, states his office as "Cup-bearer" (saqi), and includes the name of the sultan he served. Heraldic symbols indicating rank in the Mamluk hierarchy also appear on objects and architecture from the period of al-Nasir Muhammad, and in this case a blazon with a cup, the symbol of Qawsun's highest office, is repeated six times on the neck and underside of the lamp. An unusual feature of this lamp is the artist's signature inscribed around the foot, which may belong to the glassmaker, the painter, or both. The nisba (patronymic or place of origin) of the craftsman, about little is known, is ambiguously written, and thus has given rise to varied interpretations. A silmilar lamp in Cairo, which is contemporaneous with this one, bears the same signature.
Glassmaking in Mamluk Cairo peaked in the 14th century and a decline in quantity and quality began already by the early 15th century. The main centers of enameled glass production shifted to Europe, especially Venice and Barcelona, by the end of the century, and in the 16th century, "mosque" lamps became popular export items from Venice to the Near East.
Qamar Adamjee and Stefano Carboni in [Carboni 2007]
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Inscription: Around neck in Arabic: That which was made for his excellency, the exalted, the lord, the royal, the well-served Sayf al-Din Qawsun, the Cupbearer of al-Malik al-Nasir."
Around the body: Qur'an, sura 24 ("Surat al-Nur"), beginning of verse 35: "God is the light of the heavens and the earth, the likeness of his Light is as a wick-holder[wherein is a light (the light in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star)]" (from Stefano Carboni, Venice and the Islamic World, 2007, p. 340)
Around foot: "The work of the poor slave [of God] Ali ibn Muhammad al-Barmaki[?], may God safeguard him." (Translation by Stefano Carboni, Glass of the Sultans, 2001, pp. 232-33)
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