Mamluk metalwork began to decline in quality by the late fourteenth century. Commissioned for the official responsible for supervising the call‑to‑prayer and announcing the beginning and end of Ramadan, this box probably served as a food container.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Lidded Box of Muhammad al-Hamawi, Timekeeper at the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
Geography:Attributed to Syria
Medium:Brass; engraved and inlaid with silver
Dimensions:H. 4 in. (10.2 cm) W. 6 11/16 in. (17 cm) D. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
The inscriptions on several pieces of fifteenth-century metalwork are poorly written and require interpretative reading. This small oval box with flat top appears to have been made for an unknown patron by an artist named Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hamawi (from Hama), who was the timekeeper at the Great Mosque of Damascus. The work represents a provincial type of metalwork available to the middle classes and differs in quality from those produced in the capital for the court.
In spite of the fact that the maker had problems copying the inscriptions, the box is well designed and executed. The top of the lid has an oval panel filled with floral motifs; in the center written in two lines is a lobed unit containing the names of the patron and the artist; on either side is a cartouche joined to the central unit by knotted motifs. A scroll composed of trefoils and split leaves encircles the scooped shoulder of the lid. The front and back sides of the lid are adorned with a pair of cartouches linked by knotted elements and large scrolls. Loose floral scrolls fill the cartouches and the interstices.
The body is divided into three horizontal zones: the upper and lower bands are filled with loose floral scrolls interrupted by trefoil finials of the lobed units in the central panel. The wide central panel has four cartouches with inscriptions in the center of each side. Lobed medallions with trefoil finials on the vertical axis appear between the cartouches to which they are joined by knotted motifs. The inscriptions, written in two registers, bestow good wishes and contain pious phrases. The frontal hasp appears to be a later addition and is decorated with a combination of four letters thought to have a symbolic meaning.
The specific function of this box is not clear, although the oval shape resembles fourteenth- and fifteenth century food containers. Some of these containers have handles on the lid, others have knobs; they are either single or stacked to form up to three units. Such boxes were used to carry food, each unit containing a different preparation. This box, the shape of which seems to have been inspired by food containers, must have been used to protect small and precious items.
1. Wiet, Gaston. Catalogue Général du Musée Arabe du Caire: Objects en cuivre. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut Français d’ Archeologie Orientale. 1932, pls. LXV–LXVI and LXIX.
Inscription: In Arabic on lid and body; translation: - Lid: What was made for al-Wathiq bi-l-Mulk (the confident in rule) al-Wali Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hamawi (from Hama in Northern Syria), the timekeeper in the Umayyad Mosque (in Damascus) - Right side of body: And to its owner happiness, safety, longevity, glory unmarred by humiliation, and prosperity until the day of judgement - Left side: O God! You are my hope and in You I assured my doubts, forgive me for my sins, give me health and forgive me. - The inscription on the short sides consists of only partially decipherable verses.
Previous translations: - Lid: Of what was made by order .. of the King, the Sovereign, Mohammed, son of Ali, of Hama. - Body: I [the casket] give gladness in the day of salvation and ... my owner ... knows ... and from the illness of eyes and skin ... and Fortune and Joy ... and Prosperity, till the Day of Judgment ... to the King ... the Sultan.. the Amiable - On clasp: Beduh (a combination of letters having a magical meaning)
Translation by Yassir al-Tabba (1978): - Lid: Of what was made on the order of al-Wathiq bi-l-mulk (the confident in rule) al-wali ibn Muhammad Muhammad (sic) ibn `Ali al-Hamawi, which is waqf in the Umayyad mosque - Body, right: And to its owner happiness, security, longevity, glory unmarred by contempt, and prosperity to the Day of Judgement - Body, left: O God! You are my hope and in you I assured my doubts forgive me for my sins, give me health, and forgive me - Body, right: When the Lord elevates ...
Corrections by Dr. Abdullah Ghouchani (2008): -On lid: Of what was made by order of the King, the Sovereign, Mohammed, son of Mohamed, of Hama, who arrange the time
Edward C. Moore (American), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, no. 36.
Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 85.
Aanavi, Don. "Devotional Writing: "Pseudoinscriptions" in Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 26, no. 9 (May 1968). p. 356, ill. fig. 8 (b/w).
Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam : Art of the Mamluks. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. no. 36, p. 104, ill. (color).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel S. Walker, Arturo Ponce Guadián, Sussan Babaie, Stefano Carboni, Aimee Froom, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, Tomoko Masuya, Annie Christine Daskalakis-Matthews, Abdallah Kahil, and Rochelle Kessler. "Colegio de San Ildefonso, Septiembre de 1994–Enero de 1995." In Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994. no. 85, pp. 214–15, ill. (b/w).
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is one of the most comprehensive in the world and ranges in date from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Its more than 15,000 objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions from Spain to Indonesia.