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Inkwell with Zodiac Signs

Object Name:
early 13th century
probably Iran
Brass; cast, inlaid with silver, copper, and black compound
H. 5 7/8 in. (14.9 cm) H. w/o lid: 3 5/8 in. (9.2 cm) Diam. 4 9/16 in. (11.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1959
Accession Number:
59.69.2a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
One of the innovations of the Khurasani metalworkers is the development of animated inscriptions, in which parts of letters are transformed into animal or human figures. Here, the tall letters of the inscription on the lid are embellished with human heads. The use of animated inscriptions traveled westward, appearing on metalwork produced in western Iran, Iraq, and Syria, but was never adopted in other media. The body of the inkwell is decorated with the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Inscription: Arabic, in Kufic script;
Translation by Yassir al-Tabba (1978):
-lid: "Continuing glory, increasing prosperity, secure life, and good fortune";
-top: "Glory, prosperity, dominion, dominion ... ".

In Naskhi script:
On the lid:
العز الدائم/ و الاقبال ا/لزائدو العمر ام/م السالم و الجد
العز وا/ لاقبال/ و الدولـ/ـة و الد/ واله واا/

Charles Mège, Paris(by 1903); [ Brimo de Laroussilhe, Paris, until 1959; sold to MMA]
Migeon, Gaston. Exposition des Arts Musulmans au Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Paris: E. Levy, 1903. ill. pl. XX.

Baer, Eva. "An Islamic inkwell in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. pp. 202-204, ill. figs.6-10a,13-14, B/w illustrations of inkwell and details.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 48 (b/w).

Baer, Eva. Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1983. p. 79, ill. fig. 59 (b/w).

Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: The Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 12, pp. 30-31, ill. pp. 31-32 (b/w).

Baer, Eva. Islamic Ornament. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. p. 118, ill. fig. 131 (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250. 2nd ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. p. 169, ill. fig. 259 (b/w).

Price, Judith. "Exquisite Objects from the Cradle of Civilization." In Masterpieces of Ancient Jewelry. Philadelphia; London, 2008. p. 117, ill. (color).

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. 86, pp. 88, 131, ill. p. 131 (color).

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