One of the conventions of Mamluk mosque lamp decoration was to execute one inscription band in blue and the other in reserve against a blue ground. On this lamp, the neck and foot repeat the phrase al‑'alim ("The Wise"), punctuated by an as yet unassigned emblem, while the body bears a formulaic dedicatory inscription but no name.
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Geography:Probably from Egypt or Syria
Medium:Glass; blown, enameled, and gilded
Dimensions:H. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm) Max. Diam. 8 13/16 in. (22.4 cm) Diam. with handles: 9 1/8 in. (23.2 cm)
Credit Line:Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891
This lamp has a flattened globular body with six suspension rings, a pronounced flaring wide neck, and a high foot. It relates to one of the common shapes of hanging lighting devices in the medieval Islamic world. Such lamps were commonly made of glass or of pierced metal. The technique of enameled glass flourished under the Mamluks, particularly during the fourteen century, when many colorful lamps such as this were created. The monumental calligraphy here reflects the Mamluk artistic tradition of the period (see cats. 111 [MMA 91.1.601] and 126 [MMA 91.1.130] in this volume).
However, one of the conventions of enameled glass is the execution of one inscription band in blue and the other in reserve against a blue ground. Repeated six times on the neck and foot is al-‘alim (Arabic, "The Wise"), punctuated by a circular interlacing motif — perhaps an emblem — while the body bears the formulaic dedicatory inscription of an anonymous honorable prince or officer.
The term "mosque lamps" is applied to these enameled objects because the Mamluk ruling elite commonly commissioned them for the many mosques, madrasas (public schools), tombs, and other monumental buildings of their capital, Cairo. Manuscript paintings and carved reliefs also depict similar lamps in devotional or funerary contexts, hanging in prayer niches (mihrabs) or above cenotaphs or tombs. At times, the inscriptions on the lamps include quotations from the Qur’an, and particularly from the Verse of Light (Ayat al-nur, Qur’an 24:35), which such lamps are thought to represent: "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp . . . Light upon light. Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes."
Moore seemed to be particularly intrigued by the colors, sheen, and detailed ornamentation of Islamic medieval enameled glass. The examples from his bequest to the Metropolitan, approximately ten in number, represent about a quarter of the Museum’s current holdings of such objects. This material was introduced to the European market through French individuals who in the second half of the nineteenth century established themselves in Cairo and shipped objects to Paris and other markets.
Deniz Beyazit in [Medill Higgins Harvey 2021]
1. For lighting devices, 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. 88–91, no. 21a–c. There are also ceramic examples, which were probably intended as symbolic ornaments rather than actual lighting sources; see cat. 127 (MMA 91.1.95) in this volume.
2. "Of what was made by order of his Excellency the Exalted, the Lord, the Great Amir, the Honorable, the Master, the Wise, the Exalted, the Prince."
3. See Stefano Carboni "Painted Glass," in Carboni, Stefano and David Whitehouse, Glass of the Sultans, exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Corning: Corning Museum of Glass: Athens, 2001, pp. 205–7; Stefano Carboni in ibid, pp. 228–38, nos. 114–18. Not all lamps in this shape can be identified as mosque lamps, however; some served as simple hanging or portable lamps.
4. Nuha N. N. Khoury. "The Mihrab Image: Commemorative Themes in Medieval Islamic Architecture." Muqarnas 9 (1992), pp. 11–28.
5. See, for example, MMA 17.190.991; Stefano Carboni in Carboni, Stefano and David Whitehouse, Glass of the Sultans, exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Corning: Corning Museum of Glass: Athens, 2001, pp. 232–34, no. 116; Ladan Akbarnia with Francesca Leoni. Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam. Exh. cat. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2010, pp. 14–15, no. 2.
6. Several of the medieval works in his bequest came from Charles Schefer and Albert Goupil, two pioneering French collectors (see the essay by Deniz Beyazit in this volume). The present object is identified as number 2693 in an early inventory of the collection; see "Complete List, E. C. Moore Collection, Belonging to the Dr. I. H. Hall Office," undated [1891–96], Edward C. Moore Collection files, Office of the Secretary Records, MMA Archives. It is listed near a Persian luster ceramic bottle (no. 2695; MMA 91.1.197; cat. 133 in this volume), which George Salting showed at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, in 1885; see Persian and Arabic Art 1885, p. 55, no. 478. It is possible that Moore acquired this lamp around the same time.
Inscription: On the neck, in Arabic: al-alim (The Wise) (repeated six times)
On the body, in Arabic: Of what was made by order of his Excellency the Exalted, the Lord, the Great Amir, the Honorable, the Master, the Wise, the Exalted, the Prince
On the foot, in Arabic: al-alim (The Wise) (repeated six times)
Edward C. Moore (American), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
Bloomington. Indiana University. "Islamic Art Across the World," June 18, 1970–October 1, 1970, no. 236.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #25.
Bowie, Theodore Robert. "An Exhibition Prepared by Theodore Bowie." In Islamic Art Across the World. Vol. no. 1970/3. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Art Museum, June 17 to Oct. 1, 1970. no. 236.
Wypyski, Mark. Metropolitan Museum Studies in Art, Science, and Technology. vol. 1. New York, 2010. pp. 118, 120–21, 124.
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. p. 4, ill. fig. 2 (b/w).
Beyazit, Deniz. Collecting Inspiration : Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co., edited by Medill Higgins Harvey. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021. no. 121, pp. 187–88, ill.
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