Two of the medallions on this mortar show Jauzahr, the fictitious eighth planet believed responsible for the eclipse of the sun and the moon. Although described in texts as a dragon monster, Jauzahr is depicted here as a seated figure flanked by snakes with dragon heads.
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Detail representation of Jawzahr
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Title:Mortar and Pestle made for Abu Bakr 'Ali Malikzad al-Tabrizi
Date:late 12th–early 13th century
Geography:Attributed to Iran
Medium:Bronze; inlaid with silver and black compound
Dimensions:Mortar: 91.1.527a H. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm) Diam. 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm) Pestle: 91.1.527b H. 10 1/2 in. (26.7 cm) Diam. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
Accession Number:91.1.527a, b
Heavy bronze mortars often were elevated to artistic rank by fine inlaying with silver. Originally, this octagonal mortar would have had a curved handle attached at each side. Two large squares with a central hole, protruding from the body of the mortar, once functioned as the sockets for such a handle.
The object is noticeably worn, since it was functional, and much of its silver inlays have now disappeared. However, enough is left to provide a sufficient indication of its decorative program. Inscriptions in naskh script above the rim and around the base, and in kufic around the top, include a sequence of traditional blessings dedicated to the owner. The kufic inscription, beginning with bi-l-yumn wa al-baraka ... ("with bliss and divine grace . , .. "), commonly occurred on objects produced in the Iranian area in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The owner is not anonymous, for an additional inscription—apparently original, as an undecorated space was left around one of the two protruding squares that once accommodated the handle—-informs us that the dedicatee was a certain Abu Bakr ibn 'Ali ibn Malik Dad al-Tabrizi. Although it does not necessarily mean that this mortar was made in Tabriz, the ancestral home of the owner's family, a northwestern Iranian place of production is likely.
The main decoration on each of the six remaining facets of this octagonal object (with the exclusion of the two sides reserved for the handle) consists of a lobed medallion surrounded by four harpies seen in profile, one at each corner. The central image within the individual medallions varies: The depiction of the pseudo-planet Jawzahr drawn inside two medallions, is flanked by figures on horseback, including a falconer, an archer on a winged horse, and two swordsmen each holding a severed head in his hands. These two men carrying a sword and a head also might have an astrological significance as representations of the warrior-planet Mars (see MMA 91.1.530, cat. no. 5 in this volume)) and the archer is reminiscent of Sagittarius (see MMA 91.1.604, cat. no. 17 in this volume), although the falconer is not a known astrological figure. The side opposite the one with the owner's name, containing the second square protrusion, was also decorated with four harpies.
In general, the decorative program of this mortar as well as its single elements are frequently encountered in Seljuq art, on a number of contemporary inlaid metal objects and on works in different mediums. The personification of Jawzahr, depicted twice, sets this mortar apart from the others, and makes it more meaningful.
The present object entered the Metropolitan Museum's collection with an undecorated pestle (lnv. no. 91.1.527b) that probably is modem and thus is unrelated.
From ancient times, mortars were common in daily life throughout much of the Islamic world. They were used by cooks to grind spices and grains, by painters and scribes to prepare their materials, and by pharmacologists and alchemists to keep pace with advances in science and medicine. Heavy, octagonal bronze examples, such as this one, were preferred during medieval times and were produced from Anatolia to Iran. Mortars typically had handles to aid in their transportation; here, circular or curved ones would have originally been attached at the central holes in the two large lozenge elements in relief.
Sophisticated mortars such as this, decorated in the complex technique of inlay with precious metals, would have been made for affluent middle-class patrons in Iran or the ruling elite from Iran to Anatolia. The well-preserved silver inlay of the present example is rendered in a style characteristic of the Khurasan School. Particularly notable are the figures and motifs drawn with thin lines or fine, wirelike inlays and the empty background space that reinforces their linearity. The repeating medallion pattern features four harpies framing a central figure, either a rider on a horse or an astrological motif, including two representations of a seated authority figure on a throne. This figure, flanked by snakes with dragon heads, symbolizes the pseudo-planet Jawzhar, believed to swallow the moon or sun and cause lunar and solar eclipses. Benedictory formulas are inscribed on both rims. As was common in medieval times, such inscriptions aim to protect the owner—here a certain Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ali ibn Malikzad al-Tabrizi (from Tabriz).
Deniz Beyazit in [Higgins Harvey 2021]
1. See Deniz Beyazit in Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, Martina Rugiadi, and A.C.S. Peacock. Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2016, pp. 170–71, nos. 97, 98.
2. While the shape of the accompanying pestle (MMA 91.1.527b) is typical for medieval examples, it is not clear whether it belonged to this mortar.
3. For more references on astrology in medieval times, see Sheila R. Canby in Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, Martina Rugiadi, and A.C.S. Peacock. Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2016 , pp. 200–208, nos. 118–24; Beyazit in Canby et al. 2016 (ibid), pp. 209–10, nos. 125, 126.
4. For an earlier publication of the mortar with inscriptions, see Carboni, Stefano, Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1997, pp. 22–23, no. 8.
Inscription: In Arabic on borders and reverse of rim: Glory, Prosperity, Power, Happiness, Safety, Fortune, Generosity, Triumph, Forgiveness ... to owner of this (repeated three times)
- On rim: Glory, prosperity, dominion, devotion, security, glory, good health, perfection, dignity, and continuous survival to its owner. Its owner Abu Bakr Ali Malik Dad al-Tabrizi (Translation by Yassir al-Tabba)
- Outside of rim: With auspiciousness, blessing, dominion, highness to (our lord), happiness, joy, good health, dignity, victory, ability, mercy, rest, ornament, and continuance to its owner
- On base: Glory, prosperity, dominion, happiness, security, wealth, good health, perfect dignity, victory, strength, ability, mercy, rest, increase, joy, and continuous survival to its owner. Its owner Abu Bakr 'Ali Malik Zad al-Tabrizi (Translation by Francesca Leoni, 2008)
Edward C. Moore (American), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art," February 4–August 31, 1997, no. 8.
Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 8, pp. 22–23, ill. 91.1.527a only (b/w).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 102–3, ill. figs. 19, 20; fig. 20: pestle accompanying the mortar.
Beyazit, Deniz. Collecting Inspiration : Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co., edited by Medill Higgins Harvey. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021. no. 107, p. 172, ill.
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