The bottom of this basin depicts the sun surrounded by all twelve signs on the zodiac and the seven planets of medieval belief. The titles of an unknown noble are arranged around the rim. This basin, with a matching ewer, may have been used for ablutions.
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Title:Basin with Zodiac Signs and Royal Titles
Date:late 13th–early 14th century
Geography:Attributed to Egypt or Syria
Medium:Brass; engraved and inlaid with silver and black compound
Dimensions:H. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm) Diam. 12 3/4 in. (32.4 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
This elegantly shaped basin, which can be described as an upside-down top hat, was used for ablutions together with a large, matching ewer. Such sets were already popular in the first half of the thirteenth century under the Ayyubids, and their use continued throughout the fifteenth century in the same area then dominated by the Mamluks.
The interior surface of the basin is entirely decorated, while much of the exterior space is left without decoration. On the outside walls is an inscriptional band in kufic that lists a sequence of blessings; it is interrupted by four oval medallions, with pendants, which depict figures of either a musician, a dancer, or a wine drinker. Six-petaled flowers inside small roundels were inlaid at intervals between the pendants.
The interior includes a wide band covering most of the vessel's walls and containing a eulogic inscription in elegant cursive thuluth dedicated to an anonymous high-ranking Mamluk. Three large, round medallions intercept the inscription, each depicting the same figure of a ruler sitting on a portable throne and flanked by two attendants; the three scenes are virtually identical except for the positions of the arms of the ruler, which are different, although the meaning of this is not clear. Below this band, another, narrow one includes a series of figures, sitting next to each other, drinking and playing musical instruments. The scenes are made lively and appealing by the fact that the figures, rather than being isolated (as are those, for example, in the MMA bowl no. 57.36.4), are shown in groups of two or three and clearly relate to one another while enjoying their courtly pastimes.
Inside, the bottom of the basin is completely covered with roundels that illustrate the seven planets and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. As on MMA plate no. 17.190.1717, the Sun's rays frame both the central circle that represents the planet Sun as well as the whole composition. The nineteen medallions are arranged, as is usually the case, in a circular composition, with the Sun in the center, the remaining six planets immediately around it, and the twelve zodiacal signs in the outer ring. The planets, easily identifiable by their attributes, appear clockwise in their descending order, although Saturn and Jupiter are switched. The majority of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, also shown clockwise, are depicted without their Planetary Lords, except for Cancer and Leo, which invariably are paired with the Moon and the Sun, respectively, and Virgo and Aquarius, where the human figures are a vital part of each composition, which would not be properly understood without them. Libra, which usually includes Venus, surprisingly contains a long-legged bird instead between the pans of the scale. Rather than being an odd variation, this might be the most meaningful of all nineteen images, since the bird could be related to the twentieth Lunar Mansion, called al-na cii' im ("the Ostriches").
Inscription: - Interior: Arabic inscription in thuluth script: Happiness, abundance, felicity, honor, glory, permanent prosperity, eternal memory for the illustrious lord - Exterior: the same good wishes in kufic script (scratched inscription): Malik `Ali Khan... Hasan [probably a later owner]
Another translation: - Interior: The glory and the prosperity. The everlasting duration (survive) / To you (ye) patron (the exalted) The-high- / ranked and the generosity and the good fortune innovated - Exterior: illegible interlaced Kufic
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. 3.
Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 3, pp. 12–13, ill. (b/w).
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