Basin with Figural Imagery, Brass; raised, engraved, inlaid with silver and gold

Basin with Figural Imagery

Object Name:
early 14th century
Attributed to probably Iran
Brass; raised, engraved, inlaid with silver and gold
H. 5 1/8 in. (13.0 cm)
Diam. 20 1/2 in. (51.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 455
A limited number of basins were produced with this distinctive scallop-shaped edge during the Ilkhanid period in Iran. Its intricately inlaid surface, worked entirely in gold and silver, comprises figural imagery within a radiating geometric framework. Musicians, courtiers, and polo players are among the diverse and lively inhabitants of its interior. Considering its celebration of courtly pastimes, intricate drawing, and high-quality craftsmanship, this basin was likely created for a patron of high status.
Called tasht or lagan, large hand basins such as this are documented in the eastern Islamic world from the late twelfth century onward.[1] Yet the distinctive scalloped form of this basin appears to have been specifically produced under the Ilkhanid dynasty, as seen in a similar example datable to about 1300–1320, now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.[2]
The decoration, which was once entirely inlaid with gold and silver, covers the interior of the basin and is organized in concentric bands. Radiating from a central sun-shaped medallion, the registers contain depictions of servants, seated musicians playing instruments, courtiers and attendants, and five enthroned figures flanked by hunters and polo players (a motif that appears twice, once on the base and once on the wall of the basin). Additional details include images of birds on the crenellated border, addorsed griffins and human-headed winged animals, and high-stem flowers distributed in the interstitial spaces created by an intricate geometric grid used to frame the decoration.
Although inscribed in separate registers and medallions, and thus used as individual decorative units, the characters are thematically related. They all belong to the princely cycle, a group of themes illustrating royal life and pastimes. Courtly subjects were recurrent motifs on sumptuous inlaid brasses and ceramic vessels produced for aristocratic patrons.[3] In a few instances, the objects employ motifs directly inspired by literary texts that celebrated royalty, as in the case of the Victoria and Albert’s basin, which is decorated with scenes from the story of Bahram Gur, narrated in both Firdausi’s Shahnama (Book of Kings) and Nizami’s Khamsa (Quintet). In most instances, however, the decoration consists of standardized formulas such as enthronement scenes, musical entertainments, and outdoor activities comparable to those ingeniously combined in the present vessel. The choice of these motifs, their detailed execution, and the use of fine materials indicate that this object was probably produced in a royal workshop.
Francesca Leoni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. An example from Ghazni is discussed in Melikian-Chirvani, A[ssadullah] S[ouren]. Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, Eighth–Eighteenth Centuries. London, 1982, pp. 61 – 63.
2. Victoria and Albert Museum, London (no. 546-1905), published in ibid., pp. 202–7, no. 93, in Carboni and Komaroff 2002, pp. 179–80, and p. 280, no. 169, and in Ward 1993, p. 87, pl. 66.
3. See, for example, the late thirteenth-century brass basin signed by ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdallah al-‘Alawi al-Naqqash al-Mawsili currently in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (no. I-6581), or the fourteenth-century tray now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Tbilisi (no. 48/I). Both are discussed and reproduced in Komaroff 1992, pp. 10–11, figs. 2 and 4.
Edward C. Moore, New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 222D.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part III: Geometric Patterns," March 17, 1999–July 18, 1999, no catalogue.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. pp. 118–19, ill. fig. 56 (b/w).

Pope, Arthur Upham. An Introduction to Persian Art Since the Seventh Century A.D.. London: Peeter Davies, Ltd. by the Shenval Press, 1930. p. 184, ill. fig. 90 (b/w).

Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 222D, p. 141.

"An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of Persian Art at Burlington House London, 1931." In Persian Art. 2nd ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 222D, p. 17, ill. (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 152, ill. fig. 91 (b/w).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 165, pp. 184-185, ill. p. 184 (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 6, ill. (color).

Komaroff, Linda. The Golden Disk of Heaven: Metalwork of Timurid Iran. Costa Mesa, CA, 1992.

Ward, Rachel. Islamic Metalwork. London: British Museum Press, 1993.

Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

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. 87, pp. 132-133, ill. p. 132 (color).