Inkwell with Twelve Zodiac Medallions, Brass; cast, inlaid with silver and copper

Inkwell with Twelve Zodiac Medallions

Object Name:
late 12th–early 13th century
Attributed to Iran
Brass; cast, inlaid with silver and copper
H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm)
Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1944
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
The twelve signs of the zodiac are arranged around the surface of the vessel in groups of four, each surrounding a central medallion with a horsemen or a falconer.
Virgo (al-sunbula, "ear of corn") is the only sign of the Zodiac whose iconography is very different from that of Western cycles. For some reason, while the name of the constellation is al-cadhra ("the virgin") and it is depicted in astronomical treatises as a female figure, the name of the corresponding sign of the Zodiac was sunbula, after the brightest star of the constellation. Therefore, in representations on objects, the image of the female virgin was replaced by a male figure, evidently Gemini's Planetary Lord Mercury, who was shown as a farmer slashing ears of corn with a crescent-shaped scythe.
Paul Garnier, Paris (in 1927); Sarah Green Walters, Baltimore, MD (until 1941; to Brummer); [ Brummer Gallery, New York, 1941–44; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art," February 4, 1997–August 31, 1997, no. 14.

Migeon, Gaston. Manuel d'Art Musulman: Arts Plastiques et Industriels. Paris: Editions Auguste Picard, 1927. no. II, ill. fig. 247.

Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: The Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 14, pp. 34-35, ill. (b/w).