Mosque Lamp for the Mausoleum of Amir Aydakin al-'Ala'i al-Bunduqdar, Glass, brownish; blown, folded foot, applied handles; enameled and gilded

Mosque Lamp for the Mausoleum of Amir Aydakin al-'Ala'i al-Bunduqdar

Object Name:
Mosque lamp
shortly after 1285
Made in Egypt, probably Cairo
Glass, brownish; blown, folded foot, applied handles; enameled and gilded
H. 10 3/8 in. (26.4 cm)
Diam. of rim 8 1/4 in. (21 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 454
This lamp’s inscriptions reveal that it was ordered for Aidakin’s mausoleum (turba), a building still standing in Cairo. Mamluk amirs adopted emblems, often connected with their ceremonial roles at court, which decorated the objects and buildings they commissioned. Here, the motif of two gold crossbows against a red shield illustrates the office of bunduqdar (bow‑keeper).
This lamp has a flattened, almost globular body with a long flared neck and a low folded foot. Three suspension loops are attached to the body. The enameled and gilded decoration consists of three main registers and four narrower bands of continuous vegetal patterns. Two of the main registers, on the neck and body, carry inscriptions. Each register contains three medallions, placed at even intervals and bearing two confronted bows joined in the middle; these are painted in an orange-yellow stain and set against a solid red background. The inscription on the neck was executed in blue enamel against a background of white scrolls, dots, and comma-like motifs in red, green, and yellow. The second calligraphic band, outlined in red and set against a blue background, was once gilded; it is ornamented throughout with three-pointed leaves. The third register is on the underside of the body: three medallions alternate with a series of three upside-down triangular vegetal compositions. The four narrower, sparsely decorated bands, two at the base of the neck and one each at the rim and near the foot, contain a somewhat untidy mass of foliage outlined in thin short strokes of red enamel and filled with gold.

This enameled and gilded vessel is the earliest datable lamp known to have been hung in an extant interior–a turba, or tomb, built in Cairo for a Mamluk emir (although a secular building, the turba was also a shrine that included a mihrab, or prayer niche). In addition to this distinction, it also demonstrates the transition of enameled lamps from a secular function (cat. no.113 in this volume) to a strictly religious
one inside mosques and madrasas (cat. nos.114–118 in this volume).

The tomb of the emir Aydakin al-'Ala'i al-Bunduqdar (died ca.1285–86) was erected in about 1284 as part of a small complex that also included the burial place of his daughter as well as a khanaqah (a sort of hospice for the poor). Now flanked by modern houses, the building is located near two mid-fourteenth-century structures: it is just east of the imposing complex of Sultan Hasan and is joined to a corner of the ruined palace of the emir Taz. The interior of the small mausoleum measures about 6 square meters (64 1/2 sq. ft.) and contains Aydakin's wooden tabut (grave marker) and a keel-arched mihrab with stucco decoration. The lamp, which was probably the only light in the tomb chamber, was suspended either from the center of the dome directly above the tabut or in front of the mihrab. In fact, the association of the lamp and the mihrab in tombs is commonly represented on carved stonework and tilework from medieval Iran (for example, a stone panel from eleventh- or twelfth-century Iran in the Metropolitan Museum [31.50.1] and a tile panel from Kashan, Iran, dated 1308/9, also in the Metropolitan Museum [09.87]).

The patronymic al-'Ala'i derives from the name of the first owner of Aydakin when he was a young mamluk (slave), the emir 'Ala' al-Din Aqsunqur. Together with other mamluks, Aydakin formed an army corps named al-'Ala'iyya, and he quickly gained political influence after
the Ayyubids were replaced by the Mamluks in the middle of the thirteenth century. The Ayyubid sultan al-Salih. II Ayyub (d. 1249) made him bunduqdar (Keeper of the Bow), an honorary title that he kept, together with his patronymic, to the end of his life, as one can infer from the inscription on this lamp. Copied twice in an identical formula, the inscription is outlined in red and filled in with blue enamel around the neck and with gold around the body. On the neck, a rare mistake by the calligrapher has the word bunduqdar spelled as bunqud-dar–an
error (resulting in a meaningless word) that elicits surprise and sympathy from the learned viewer.

A surviving inscription on the top of the exterior wall of Aydakin's tomb incorporates the emblem of the Keeper of the Bow, a pair of confronted gold bows against a red undivided field, which possibly refers to the sultan's hunting bow or, by extension, his hunting equipment. The decoration of the present lamp includes the same emblem repeated nine times, although the gold is replaced with a yellow
stain. The term bunduq specifically denotes a hunting bow that shoots pellets rather than arrows (the word means "hazelnut" in modern Arabic), and this may be the reason why there is a cradlelike piece at the center of the strings in the emblem (see Latham and Paterson 1970, pp.139–40,and Nicolle 1996, p. 158). Given Aydalan's association with the Ayyubids, this emblem may be the earliest one known to have been granted to an emir.

The fairly precise dating of the lamp allows for a general analysis of the decoration of painted and enameled vessels during the last quarter of the thirteenth century. Clearly predominant are the inscriptions, which are historical rather than eulogistic, and the emblems; the remainder of the surface is sparsely decorated with sketchy motifs outlined in red. The once-gilded background of the register on the neck is filled with large spiraling white scrolls having leaves highlighted in red and white or in green and yellow, with a discreet and limited use of polychromy in a composition that is primarily blue and gold (and red, because of the emblem). A reversed color effect characterizes the central band, which has a bold blue background punctuated with three-lobed pointed leaves filled with gold. With its well-delineated shoulder and low foot, this vessel has a more angular profile than most other lamps.

Stefano Carboni in [Carboni and Whitehouse 2001]


J. D. Latham and W. F. Paterson. Saracen Archery: An English Version and Exposition of a Mameluke Work on Archery (ca. A.D. 1368). London, I970.

David Nicolle. Medieval Warfare Sourcebook. Vol. 2, Christian Europe and Its Neighbours. London, 1996.

Enameled-and-gilded glass "mosque lamps" are among the most ambitious, distinctive, and sought-after products made in Egyptian and Syrian glass factories during the Mamluk period. Every mosque, madrasa, khanaqah (hospice), and mausoleum that flourished within the Mamluk sultanate would have required many, and in some cases dozens of, mosque lamps. Each holding a saucer filled with oil and water and a floating wick, they were suspended from the ceiling by means of long metal chains at just over a man’s height from the floor. The resulting "forest" of dimly lit lamps neatly arranged in rows—their light glowing through the gilt and the glassy enamels—must have been quite an impressive sight for worshipers entering a mosque.
The technique of enameling allowed glass workers extraordinary creative freedom, not only in decorating an object but also in adding inscriptions. Mosque lamps usually bore the most appropriate verses from the "Sura of Light" (Qur’an 24:35) and thus emphasized the luminous presence of God. Many inscriptions, however, blended religious and secular themes by also providing the name of the patron who commissioned the building. The present mosque lamp is somewhat unusual because it carries only a dedicatory inscription, copied around the neck in blue enamel and then again around the body in gold.
This historical inscription, a rare occurrence in glass studies, reveals much useful information and establishes the lamp as the earliest datable one from the Mamluk period. The keeper of the bow (bunduqdar) was a high-ranking officer of the complex Mamluk court system and had the right to display his own emblem, here appropriately illustrated as a stylized golden bow against a red background.[1] "‘Ala’i" means that the bunduqdar, who had begun his career as a slave (as was common under the Mamluks), had maintained the patronymic of his first owner, the amir ‘Ala’ al-Din Aqsunqur. The patron of this lamp was undoubtedly Aydakin al- ‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar, who, according to one source, died in Cairo in June 1285.[2]
The inscription reveals that the lamp was commissioned for Aydakin’s tomb (turba), which was erected about 1284 near the Citadel in Cairo as part of a complex that also included his daughter’s tomb and a khanaqah. The tomb chamber, a small room of about sixty-four square feet, still contains Aydakin’s wooden grave marker (tabut) and a keel-arched prayer niche (mihrab). This lamp was once suspended either directly over the tabut or in front of the mihrab as a testament to his life and social status.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, enameled-and-gilded mosque lamps became popular among European collectors, and a large number of them were taken from their buildings in Cairo and sold. J. P. Morgan, who donated this work to the Museum in 1917, had acquired it in 1904 through a Paris sale from Emile Gaillard, who was apparently its first European owner.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The bunduq, a term commonly translated as "hazelnut" in Arabic today, was a bow that propelled pellets (hence, "nuts") rather than arrows.
2. Mayer 1933, pp. 83–84.
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in thuluth script on neck and body:
ممما عمل برسم تربة المقر العالي/ العلائي البندقدار/ قدس الله روحه
From [the objects] that were made for the tomb of His High Excellency
al-‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar (the keeper of the bow), may God sanctify his soul
Emile Gaillard, Paris (until d. 1904; sale, Hôtel Gaillard,Paris, June 7–16, 1904, no. 579, to Morgan); J. Pierpont Morgan (American), New York (1904–d. 1913; his estate 1913–17; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Calligraphy West of China," March 15, 1972–May 7, 1972, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #26.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass of the Sultans," October 2, 2001–January 13, 2002, no. 114.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. pp. 189, 194, ill. fig. 118 (b/w).

Mayer, Leo Aryeh. Saracenic Heraldry : A Survey. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933. pp. 83–84.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 240, ill. fig. 156 (b/w).

Nickel, Helmut. "A Mamluk axe." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 216, ill. fig. 5 (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 21 (color).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Glass: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 44, no. 2 (Fall 1986). p. 40, ill. fig. 47 (color).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 51-52, ill. fig. 36 (color).

Soucek, Priscilla, ed. Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World : papers from a colloquium in memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Monographs on the fine arts, vol. 44. University Park, PA: College Art Association of America, 1988. pp. 225, 253, ill. fig. 20 (b/w).

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 318, ill. fig. 17 (color).

Strouse, Jean. "J. Pierpont Morgan: Financier and Collector." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 57, no. 3 (2000). p. 63, ill. fig. 74 (color).

Carboni, Stefano, David Whitehouse, Robert H. Brill, and William Gudenrath. Glass of the Sultans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. no. 114, pp. 228-230, ill. p. 229 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 109, pp. 4, 139, 160-161, ill. p. 160 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 226-227, ill. pl. 45 (color).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 130, ill. (color).

Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 47, ill. fig. 33 (color).