Textile: H. 21 1/4 in. (54 cm)
W. 14 in. (35.6 cm)
Mount: H. 26 3/8 in. (67 cm)
W. 20 in. (50.8 cm)
D. 7/8 in. (2.2 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1946
Not on view
Influenced by Chinese and Mongol prototypes, this fragment shows a repeating pattern of an ogival vine scroll that undulates around Chinese-style lotus blossoms enclosing a naskh inscription. The inscription reads "The Sultan, the King," in mirror image, a reference to an unnamed Mamluk sultan. The combination of these elements—the Eastern origin of the design, an inscription invoking the ruling elite, and the sumptuousness of the fabric— were the most common characteristics of luxury textiles of the period, and the visual manifestation of the long-lasting trade relations between China and the eastern Mediterranean.
Against a deep blue satin ground, a cream-colored ogival vine scroll encloses lotus-blossom medallions—each one containing an almond-shaped form with an Arabic inscription announcing, "The sultan, the king." The anonymous ruler invoked by this inscription was likely one of the Mamluk sultans who reigned over much of Egypt and Syria from their capital, Cairo. Owing to the dry climate of this region, a number of textiles survive from this period.
Luxury textiles such as this one played a vital role in the courtly life of the Mamluk sultans. Contemporary historians document the bestowal of textiles by Mamluk rulers—including so-called khila‘, or robes of honor—at investiture ceremonies where such weavings served to confer promotions of rank and to reward service. Over time, a carefully coded sartorial hierarchy developed within Mamluk society, wherein dress indicated status. While it is difficult to align surviving examples with the textiles described in the historical accounts, silks like this, inscribed with the title of the sultan, may have counted among these highly treasured and politically charged gifts.
In terms of design, this example is similar in both pattern and palette to several silk textile fragments, thought to be of Chinese manufacture, found in the environs of Cairo. Some of these fabrics display an ogival pattern comparable to the Museum’s piece, while others exhibit designs incorporating swaying vines with almond-shaped medallions containing similar Arabic inscriptions. The medallions on the latter textiles refer to a specific Mamluk sultan, al-Nasir Muhammad (r. 1294–1340, with interruptions).
Textile scholars note that in 1323 the Ilkhanid ruler Abu Sa‘id reportedly sent a gift of seven hundred specially commissioned "Mongol" textiles, woven with the Mamluk sultan’s name and titles, to al-Nasir Muhammad. It has been proposed that these silks bearing Arabic inscriptions naming al-Nasir Muhammad are survivals from that early fourteenth-century gift. While this connection remains to be proven, the strong correspondence between the Metropolitan’s textile pattern and the design of the related "Chinese" or "Mongol" silks suggests that imported fabrics inspired the weaver of our Mamluk textile. This would not be unexpected, as the use of chinoiserie elements in works in other media produced during the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad has already been noted. Thus, this textile speaks not only to the cosmopolitan taste of the Mamluk court in the fourteenth century but also to the continuum of trade and diplomatic contact stretching from China to the Mediterranean during this period.
Denise-Marie Teece (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Repeated within medallions, in mirror image in Arabic in naskhi script, :
The sultan, the king
Marking: See link panel.
[ Giorgio Sangiorgi, Rome, until 1946; to Loewi]; [ Adolph Loewi, Los Angeles, 1946; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #63.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.
Mackie, Louise W. "Toward an Understanding of Mamluk Silks: National and International Considerations." Muqarnas vol. 2 (1984). p. 136, ill. pl. 15 (b/w).
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. 115, pp. 166-167, ill. p. 167 (color).