The central band of three densely decorated zigzag bands consists of pairs of confronted winged dragons with knotted serpentine bodies, feline forelegs, and tails ending in interlacing dragons’ heads. The dragon with an open mouth and knotted snakelike body may relate to the devastating pseudo-planets al-Jawzahr and Nawbahr, which were thought to cause solar and lunar eclipses by devouring the sun and moon. It has also been connected to ancient Central Asian and Mesopotamian beliefs regarding dragons, which have been subject to a range of interpretations, from potency to royalty and harmony to protection. Such meanings are confirmed by the benedictory and apotropaic inscriptions, as well as the luxurious medium.
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Title:Candlestick Base with Interlacing Dragons
Date:early to mid-13th century
Geography:Attributed to Northern Iraq, Syria, or southeastern Turkey
Medium:Brass; inlaid with silver and copper
Dimensions:H. 9 3/8 in. (23.75 cm) Diam. 13 9/16 in. (34.4 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
Candlestick Base with Interlacing Dragons
This conically shaped, neckless candlestick bears the hallmarks of the al-Mawsili metalworkers, who created sophisticated inlaid objects for courtly households of the Seljuq successor states. Among their creations is this lighting device, which was made for the treasury of a ruler or high-ranking officer known by the title al-muzaffar. Most intriguing are the three densely decorated zigzag bands. The curvilinear drawing of the zigzag units increases elegance and adds dynamism to this continuous motif, while arabesque-like patterns enrich the corners, and copper inlays create polychrome accents. The central band consists of pairs of confronted winged dragons with knotted serpentine bodies, feline forelegs, and tails ending in interlacing dragons’ heads. The two other bands contain elegant arabesques.
Dragons and arabesque motifs appear against a background of engraved, spiraling vegetal scrolls. Parallels for the paired dragons depicted here occur on gates and portals, such as those at Sinjar, Amid (present-day Diyarbakır), Aleppo, Damascus, and Baghdad; doorknockers of Jaziran and Syrian palaces, madrasas, mosques, and other monuments built under the Seljuq successor states; and also tombstones. Various meanings and interpretations have been proposed for the paired-dragon motif, which was popular in medieval arts from West and Central Asia, in Christian, Islamic, shamanistic, Zoroastrian, and other traditions. The dragon with an open mouth and knotted snakelike body may relate to the pseudo-planetary monster al-Jawzahr, which was thought to cause lunar and solar eclipses—devastatingly terrifying in the medieval world—by devouring the sun and moon. It has also been connected to ancient Central Asian and Mesopotamian beliefs regarding “issuing and devouring” dragons, which have been subject to a range of interpretations, from potency to royalty and from harmony to protection.
While the iconography of facing winged dragons with open mouths and tails ending in dragons’ heads remains to be discussed, the rendering on this candlestick was likely intended to perform a function similar to those that appeared on gates, portals, and doorknockers—that is, to provide talismanic protection, but also to convey royalty. The benedictory inscriptions atop this candlestick increase its apotropaic power, while the lavish scripts and interlaced stellate, circular medallions around the now lost neck reinforce high value and sophistication.
Deniz Beyazit in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
1. Published, with inscriptions, by Ellen Kenney in Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011. Catalogue edited by Maryam D. Ekhtiar, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Najat Haidar. New York, 2011, pp. 157–58, no. 106.
2. See also cat. 125 in this volume, (Museum of Islamic Art, Doha MW.109.1999), in which the same title is used for an anonymous amir. This title was used by Artuqid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk rulers, see Bosworth, Clifford Edmund. The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual. Enl. and updated ed. 1967. Edinburgh, 1996, pp. 70–80, 194–96.
3. For references to doorknockers, gateways, and portals, see cat. 136d in this volume (Musée du Louvre MAO 97). For the occurrence of the motif on the Ahlat tombstones, see Öney, Gönül. “Anadolu Selçuk Sanatında Ejder Fıgürlerı/Dragon Figures in Anatolian Seljuk Art.” Belleten, Türk Tarıh Kurumu 33 (1969), p. 176, no. 10, fig. 11.
4. On the dragon motif, see ibid., pp. 172–92; Drache, Phönix, Doppeladler: Fabelwesen in der islamischen Kunst. Exh. cat., Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, 1993–94. Catalogue by Joachim Gierlichs. Berlin, 1993; Gierlichs, Joachim. Mittelalterliche Tierreliefs in Anatolien und Nord-Mesopotamien: Untersuchungen zur figürlichen Baudekoration der Seldschuken, Artuqiden und ihrer Nachfolger bis ins 15. Jahrhundert. Tübingen, 1996, pp. 28–40, 93–99; and Kuehn, Sara. The Dragon in Medieval East Christian and Islamic Art. Islamic History and Civilization, 86. Leiden and Boston, 2011.
5. Hartner, Willy. “The Pseudoplanetary Nodes of the Moon’s Orbit in Hindu and Islamic Iconographies.” Ars Islamica 5, pt. 2 (1938), pp. 112–54.; Öney 1969 (reference in note 3 above); Kuehn 2011 (reference in note 4 above), pp. 111–24; Daneshvari, Abbas. Of Serpents and Dragons in Islamic Art: An Iconographical Study. Bibliotheca Iranica Islamic Art and Architecture Series, 13. Costa Mesa, Calif., 2011, pp. 107–19, 159–65.
This conically shaped, neckless candlestick reflects Moore’s interest in Islamic decorative metalwork, and specifically that featuring the elaborate inlay technique. For about three centuries beginning from about 1100, such sophisticated utilitarian objects were created for elite households. While the technique was inherited from pre-Islamic times, it was developed by Muslim craftsmen, who employed it to transform the entire surface of a metal object into a lavish, polychrome work of art. A variety of brass objects, carefully inlaid with figural and calligraphic images, were used in ceremonies and festivities and also served as diplomatic gifts.
The inscriptions on the candlestick, which bears the hallmarks of the "al-Mawsili" metalwork school, confirm that it was made for the treasury of a ruler or high-ranking officer with the title "al-Muzaffar." The benedictory and talismanic calligraphy on the top of the device aims at ensuring a healthy, prosperous life for the owner. Of the three densely decorated zigzag bands encircling the object, the central one depicts pairs of confronted winged dragons, a ubiquitous motif from the medieval Islamic world. Symbols of potency, strength, and royalty, these snakelike beasts were often depicted on gates and portals, protecting both houses and cities in Syria, Iraq, and Anatolia. While Moore might not have understood the iconography or calligraphy here, his artistic eye was certainly attracted by the fine execution of the details, the elegant arabesque patterns, the copper inlays’ polychrome accents, and the expressivity of the dragons—skillfully inlaid and chiseled fantastical creatures with winding, knotted serpentine bodies, feline forelegs, and tails ending in interlacing heads.
Deniz Beyazit in [Higgins Harvey 2021]
1. For more on the candlestick and its inscriptions, see Ellen Kenney in Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Najat Haidar, eds. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, pp. 157–58, no. 106; 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. 232–33, no.145.
2. For inlaid metalwork and the "al-Mawsili" school, see Raby, Julian. "The Principle of Parsimony and the Problem of the Mosul School of Metalwork." In: Metalwork and Material Culture in the Islamic World, edited by Venetia Porter and Mariam Rosser-Owen, pp. 11-85. London: I. B . Tauris, 2012; Raby, Julian. "Mosul Metalworkers after the Mongols." In Court and Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq, edited by Rachel Ward, pp. 56–67. Exh. cat. London: Courtauld Gallery, in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2014; 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. 62–65, 74–75, 120, 138–39, 142, 151, 160–61, 209, 232–33, 242–44, 265–67, 273–74, nos. 12a, b, 13a, b, 15, 49, 68, 69, 72, 79, 90, 125, 145, 155, 168a–c, 174b.
3. 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. 232–33, no.145.
Candlesticks of this shape were made for both religious and secular contexts. Only the truncated conical base of this example remains; originally a cylindrical neck would have risen from the base and would have been surmounted by a candle socket. Typically, such sockets imitated the shape of the body on a miniature scale, so the one for this object probably had a truncated conical form as well. The sides are decorated with three densely ornamented zigzag bands. On the central band, pairs of confronted winged dragons with knotted serpentine bodies, finely incised with scales, feline forelegs, and dragon-headed tails, interlace against a background of delicate vegetal scrolls. Two concentric inlaid inscriptions embellish the shoulder of the candlestick base: around the outer edge, a circular band of naskhi interrupted at intervals by rosettes against a vegetal ground, and around the absent socket, a circle of kufic divided by four interlace medallions. The remaining inscriptions, etched into areas of plain brass, are not part of the decorative program but rather owners’ marks. One, located on the underside of the candlestick base, states that the piece was ordered for the treasury of an individual whose laqab was "al-Muzaffar," which suggests a royal patron or collector. However, this personage has not been identified: while the laqab corresponds to that adopted by several different rulers in Syria and the Jazira between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the personal name and patronymic following it do not correspond to any of these figures.
Since the inscriptions neither mention the date or place of manufacture nor definitively identify a patron, the attribution for this candlestick depends on stylistic evidence. The tightly rolled spirals filling the background of the arabesque zigzag bands are a hallmark of the group of metalworkers whose nisba, al-Mawsili, signals their connection with the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Yet, this detail does not narrow down the provenance because these craftsmen are known to have operated in multiple centers in Iraq, Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt during the thirteenth century. Tapering, drum-shaped base forms, while characteristic of thirteenth-century Jaziran workshops, are also found in later examples from Syria and Egypt as well as from Iran. Parallels for the paired dragons depicted here appear in a variety of media during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from Iraq, Anatolia, and Syria. Similar dragons—surmounting gates and portals in Amid (present-day Diyarbakir), Sinjar, Aleppo, Damascus, and Baghdad and fashioned into cast-bronze door knockers in southern Anatolia—have been interpreted as talismanic devices. Analogous figures on a series of Artuqid coins and in manuscript illustrations associated with Artuqid patronage suggest that they may have served as a sort of dynastic emblem in that context.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Baer 1983, p. 27.
2. A brass disk, pierced in the center, has been soldered onto the opening where the stem of the socket was originally attached.
3. Rice, D. S. "The Oldest Dated ‘Mosul’ Candlestick, A.D. 1225." The Burlington Magazine 91, no. 561 (December 1949), p. 340, esp. n. 40. See also Rice, D. S. "Inlaid Brasses from the Workshop of Ahmad al-Dhaki al-Mawsili." Ars Orientalis 2 (1957), p. 319.
4. See Bosworth, Clifford Edmund. The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual. Enl. and updated ed. 1967. Edinburgh, 1996, pp. 70–73.
5. Baer 1983 (note 1), p. 28.
6. For a recent discussion of this dragon motif and its possible significance, see Akbarnia and Leoni 2010, pp. 17–18, no. 3.
Inscription: On outer rim of shoulder in Arabic in naskhi script:
Perpetual glory, increasing prosperity, ascending luck, effectual command, ⦁
constant happiness, conquering victory, eternal support, lasting command and
dominion, complete well-being, perpetual health, ⦁ happiness, pure [. . . ?],
high generosity, ⦁ complete well-being, glory, long life, thanks, praise,
magnificence, ⦁ nobility, victory over the enemies, happiness and long life
for its owner ⦁
Around missing socket on shoulder in Arabic in kufic script: لة ⦁ عد والدهر المساعد ]و [العافیة لصا ]؟[ والدو ⦁ العز الدائم والعمر السالم والجد الصا
⦁ الکاملة والجاد] ؟[ النما والبقاء دائم لصاحبه ⦁ الباق] ي[ ة والسعادة الکاملة والسلامة
Perpetual glory, a healthy life, ascending luck, ⦁ eternal support, [. . .] health,
eternal dominion, ⦁ complete happiness, complete well-being, ⦁ increasing
[. . .] and everlasting life for its owner
On shoulder, added later, chiseled in Arabic in naskhi script:
حمد الرحم] ؟[
Praise be to the Benefactor [?]
On shoulder, added later, incised in Arabic in naskhi script:
علي بن أحمد
‘Ali ibn Ahmad
On body, added later, incised in Arabic in naskhi script:
On the interior body, incised in Arabic in an angular script:
برسم الخزانة / المظفریة
By order of the treasury of [al-Malik] al-Muzaffar
On the interior body, incised in Arabic in naskhi script:
علي ابي ]؟[
‘Ali . . .[?]
On the interior body, chiseled in Arabic in naskhi script: أحمد بن العباس Ahmad ibn al-‘Abbas
Edward C. Moore (American), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. Brooklyn Museum. "Light of the Sufis : an introduction to the mystical arts of Islam," June 5, 2009–September 6, 2009, no. 3.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Light of the Sufis : an introduction to the mystical arts of Islam," May 16, 2010–August 8, 2010, no. 3.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25–July 24, 2016, no. 145.
Dimand, Maurice S. "Near Eastern Metalwork." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin (1926). pp. 193–96, ill. fig. 5 (b/w).
Akbarnia, Ladan, and Francesca Leoni. "The Mystical Arts of Islam." In Light of the Sufis. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2010. no. 3, pp. 16–18, ill. p. 17 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 106, pp. 139, 157–58, ill. p. 157 (color).
Ansari, Ali, ed. "Essays in Honor of Carole Hillenbrand." In Fruit of Knowledge, Wheel of Learning. London: Gingko, 2022. ill. back cover and p. 191.
Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 145, pp. 232–33, ill. p. 232 (color).
Higgins Harvey, Medill, ed. Collecting Inspiration : Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co.. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021. no. 109, pp. 174–75, ill. p. 174.
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