The inscriptions on this tray are even more informative than usual. Not only do they document the object’s commission for a Rasulid sultan of Yemen, they also include the signature of a metalworker whose name links him with the traditions of Mosul metalworking and, even more rare, the specific place of manufacture: Cairo.
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:Tray of Yemeni Sultan al-Mu'ayyad ibn Yusuf
Maker:Ahmad ibn Husayn al-Mosuli
Geography:Made in Egypt, Cairo
Medium:Brass; inlaid with silver
Dimensions:Max. Diam. 30 5/8 in. (77.8 cm) Diam. from base to top of rim: 1 3/16 in. (3 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
The figural style of decoration continued well into the fourteenth century, as observed in this tray made for the Rasulid sultan Dawud (1296–1322). Dawud commissioned from Mamluk artists several pieces of inlaid metalwork and enameled glass, including a pen box, in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, dated 1302/3 (no. 370-1897); another tray in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (no. 91.1.605); and a glass bottle) in the Detroit Institute of Arts (no. 50).
His predecessor, Yusuf, had also commissioned a number of metal objects from the Mamluk workshops in Cairo (see no. 14 in this volume). The name of Dawud's son, Ali, is inscribed on several objects including a tray in the Louvre (no. 6008), a basin (no. 91.1.589) and bowl (no. 91.1.590) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an enameled glass bowl at the Toledo Museum of Art (no. 44.33), and a glass bottle at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington (no. 34.20).
This tray forms a transition between the earlier group of Mamluk metalwork decorated with figural compositions and the later examples in which the predominant themes are hierarchic thuluth inscriptions and lotus blossoms. The tripartite division of design is also a characteristic of later pieces.
The piece is divided into two main sections: a large central medallion and a wide inscription band broken into three parts by lobed medallions. In the core of the central medallion is a five-petalled rosette, the blazon of the Rasulid dynasty. The geometric design radiating from the rosette first creates a fine interlace and then opens out to form seven units composed of real and fantastic animals, some of which are engaged in combat. In the center of each unit is a crowned sphinx, shown frontally in a squatting position with extended wings. On either side of the sphinxes are winged lions swooping down to to attack winged bulls separated by small harpies. The composition is further enhanced by flying ducks and the heads of lions and bulls, which appear as parts of the intertwined scrolls. This remarkable zoomorphic arabesque is a masterpiece of design and execution.
The three lobed medallions in the outer zone represent figures riding counterclockwise and against the direction of the inscription. One of the riders, who shoots an arrow on a lion (?), wears a turban with a fluttering band, a belted robe, and high boots; a sword encased in a scabbard hangs from his waist. The second warrior is in full armor with ribbons or plumes attached to the top of his helmet; he is shooting at a small human figure with a bow and arrow; the quiver hanging from his waist is full of arrows. The last rider is also in full armor and bears a bow and quiver and a sword; he is spearing a diminutive human figure who carries a sword. The riders and their mounts are rendered in detail against a fine floral arabesque. Unfortunately, the inlay and a great amount of fine detailing has disappeared.
A floral arabesque with flying ducks fills the ground of the inscription panel. The vertical shafts of the letters radiate toward the rim, and the script uses the same ground line as the riders, a feature also observed in the tray made for Dawud's father (see no. 14 in this volume). In trays produced later—including one made for Dawud's son, Ali—the inscription is reversed, the shaft of the letters are oriented toward the center to create a radiating and revolving effect.
A chevron design appears on the walls and the rim has two bands. The inner band is broken into six panels by five-petaled rosettes: an inscription panel alternates with a unit containing quadrupeds moving counterclockwise in the same direction as the script. The animals include lions, bears, foxes, cheetahs, gazelles, wolves, hares, bulls, and a camel. The ground of both units is filled with a floral arabesque. The outer band is adorned with a scroll of flying ducks.
Since the inlay has completely disappeared, it is difficult to determine whether the five-petaled rosettes, the blazons of the Razulid house, were originally inlaid with copper. It was common practice among metalworkers to use copper to suggest the color red, traditionally employed in this heraldic symbol.
The inscription on the rim states that the tray was made by an al-Mawsili artist working in Cairo. Although it is feasible that the maker of Sultan Dawud's tray could trace his ancestry for at least four generations to Mosul, it is more likely that he was trained in the style of that city as suggested by the superb figural compositions employed on the tray.
The tray apears to have been owed at one point by al-Husein ibn al-Hasan, who inserted his name after the silver inlay on one of the letters fell out. He has added after his name the name amir al-mumunin, amir or commander of the faithful, a title traditionally employed by caliphs. This practice is also observed on inscriptions added to several examples of Mamluk metalwork that in the seventeenth century passed into the collection of a particular family thought to be among the aristocracy of Yemen.
1. The name Muhammad ibn Akmad ibn amir al-mumunin appears on a basin and candlestick in Cairo, Museum of Islamic Art, nos. 3937 and 3982, the candle stick dated 1662. The name of his son, al-Husein, is found on a candlestick in Lyons and a basin in Paris, the latter dated 1678. See Melikian-Chirvani, A.S. "L’Art du metal dans les pays arabes II: Deux chandeliers mossouliens au Musee des Beaux-Arts." Bulletin des Musees et Monuments Lyonnais 4, no. 3, 1970, pp. 45–62.
Inscription: In Arabic in Mamluk naskhi script: On rim: Glory to our Lord, the Sultan, the King, the aided, the wise, the just, the fighter for the faith, the warrior, the defender of the outposts, the lion of the world and religion, Dawud, the Sultan of Islam and the Muslims, the ... of justice in the world, the son of our Lord, the Sultan, the king, the victorious, the happy, the martyr, the sun of the world and religion, Yusuf, may God sacrifice for him ... made by Husayn Ahmad b. Husayn al-Mawsili in Cairo Interior: Glory to our Lord, the Sultan, the King, the aided, the wise, the just, the fighter for the faith, the warrior, the defender of the outposts, the lion of the world and religion, Dawud, may his victory be glorious (Translation by Yassir al-Tabba, 1978)
Martinovitch's translation: Interior: Glory to our Master, the Sultan, the King al-Mu'ayyad, the Wise, the just, the Fighter (for the Faith), the Defender (of Islam), the Glorious, Hizabr ad-Dunya wad-Din Dawud,. May his victory be glorified On rim: Glory to our Master, the Sultan, the King al-Mu'ayyad, the Wise, the Just, the Fighter (for the Faith,), the Defender (of Islam), the Glorious, Hizabr ad-Dunya wad-Din Dawud, Sultan of Islam and the Muslim, the Supporter of Justice in the World, Son of our Master, the Sultan, the King, the Victorious, Shams ad-Dunya wad-Din; Husain ibn Ahmad ibn Husain of Mosul, in Cairo (has made it) (See pub. list, Dimand) Artist's name is wrong.
Corrections by Dr. Abdullah Ghouchani (2008): -Interior:"...Hijabr....."
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. 22.
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Five-Petaled Rosette: Mamluk Art for the Sultans of Yemen," June 22–December 31, 1995, no catalogue.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 114.
Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam : Art of the Mamluks. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. no. 22, pp. 80–81, ill. p. 81 (color).
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.