A sultan from Yemen commissioned this tray, which includes his name and titles in a large band surrounding a central medallion with the twelve signs of the zodiac and personifications of the seven planets of medieval belief (the sun, the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus).
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Title:Tray Made for the Rasulid Sultan al-Mu'ayyad Da'ud ibn Yusuf
Date:early 14th century
Geography:Attributed to Egypt, Cairo
Medium:Brass; engraved and inlaid with silver and black compound
Dimensions:H. 1 1/8 in. (2.9 cm) Diam. 28 in. (71.1 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
Shortly after the Mamluks gained power in Egypt in 1250, Yemen was ruled by the Rasulid dynasty (1288–1454). Although fully independent, the Rasulids acknowledged that the Mamluks were their potential overlords, and they regularly dispatched ambassadors to Cairo bearing gifts. The Mamluks sent envoys with presents in return. It was under these favorable circumstances that Mamluk metalworkers and glassmakers received commissions for works intended for the Rasulid sultans. These artists did not adhere to a specific decorative program to distinguish objects made for local demand and those produced for export to Yemen. The sole features that differentiate the two categories of production are the Rasulid titles in the inscriptions and the presence of the emblem of the Yemenite dynasty, the five-petaled rosette.
This large tray, used to carry food, is one of a group of about forty extant works of art made by Mamluk craftsmen specifically for the Rasulid sultans of Yemen. According to its prominent thuluth inscription, the tray was executed for the Rasulid sultan al-Mu'ayyad Hizabr al-Din Dawud ibn Yusuf (r. 1296–1321), a contemporary of the Mamluk sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun (r. 1294–1341, with two interruptions). The division of the decoration of the tray into concentric bands results in one of the most elaborate compositions found on objects of this type. The central roundel contains representations of the seven planets and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The Sun is in the center, and Saturn, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, the Moon, and Mercury are illustrated clockwise, although they are not in their classical order. The twelve signs, on the other hand, are in their traditional sequence, clockwise. Three large roundels interrupt the main inscription. Two of them show what appears to be a horseman extracting an arrow from his quiver and then shooting it at a gazelle; in the third, a horseman attacks a lion with his spear. The small running quadrupeds seen in profile around the rim of the tray provide a comprehensive Mamluk bestiary: There are a rhinoceros, lion, antelope, cheetah, saluki, wolf, hare, unicorn, bear, elephant, horse, onager, gazelle, deer, and sphinx. The border of this rim is completed by a band of tiny, stylized quails. The two smaller bands immediately next to the main band include eulogies in an elaborate, barely readable "knotted-kufic" script. Five-petaled rosettes are present within the circles that intercept the inscriptions inside these smaller bands.
The silver inlay was very shallow, and, as the tray evidently was frequently used and polished, the inlay has almost totally disappeared, so that only the black bitumen is still partially visible.
Inscription: In Arabic in thuluth script and kufic (interlaced) in center. Large register in thuluth script: Glory to our Master the /Sultan, the King al-Mu'ayyad, the Wise, the Just, the Fighter (for the Faith), the Conqueror, Hizabr ad-Dunya wa'l Din Dawud (Translation by Prof. N. Martinovitch)
Large register in thuluth script: Glory to our lord, the sultan, the king, the aided, the wise, the just, the fighter for the faith, the lion of the world and religion Dawud Inside: Eternal life, Eternal life (Translations by Yasser al-Tabba, 1978)
There is a third interlaced Kufic inscription framing the larger register which was read by Professor A. Ghouchani: Eternal life, victory, profit, good fortune, progress, and perpetual glory; Progress, eternal life, eternal (life), perpetual glory, victory, profit; Eternal glory, healthy life, future victory, eternal life, good fortune; Eternal life, perpetual glory, good fortune, profit, eternal life; Health, good fortune, profit, eternal life, perpetual glory, and good fortune; Eternal glory, healthy life, good fortune, profit, eternal life
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. "The Five-Petaled Rosette: Mamluk Art for the Sultans of Yemen," June 22–December 31, 1995, no catalogue.
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. 4.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 114.
Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 4, pp. 14–15, ill. (b/w).
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