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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mirror with Split-leaf Palmette Design inlaid with Gold

Object Name:
early 16th century
Attributed to Turkey, probably Bursa or Istanbul
Iron, inlaid with gold; ivory
H. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm) Diam. 4 3/4 in. (12.1 cm) D. 1/8 in. (0.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1972
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 460
The polished, reflecting side of this mirror has traces of gold inlay along the edges. On the back, dense spiral scrolls sprinkled with blossoms, leaves, and arabesques revolve from the six-pointed star placed in the center of the poly-lobbed medallion. The handle shaft has a gold chevron pattern and two ivory plaques. A gold-inlaid steel mirror in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul is somewhat more deluxe, with a jade handle and inset with ruby and turquoise, but the similarity of ornamentation suggests production in the same Ottoman court workshop.
The austerity and puritanism of early Islam have left an enduring and recurring impact on Islamic art, just as that of early Christianity has returned again and again in Europe to affect art over the centuries. The tension between the intrinsic sensual appeal of beautiful things, epitomized in the luxury objects created for royal courts, and a religion focused on the eternal life of the Hereafter is shared among all of the cultures dominated by the Abrahamic religious tradition. An ivory-handled hand mirror such as this one is the perfect expression of visual sensuality. Created about 1500 for a patron in the Ottoman court, its two circular surfaces—the back covered with a cast-and-gilded rumi split-leaf arabesque, and the front, once highly polished—served the end of visual delight.
The tradition in Islam of creating beautiful mirrors, first from cast-and-polished bronze and later from other metals, or of materials such as ivory or jade to which polished metal panels were added, can be considered from a number of perspectives.[1] In early Islamic courts, where royal power and splendor were projected through luxurious costumes, a hand mirror such as this was, apart from looking into a pool of water, the sole means then available for any person in the court to view the end result of an extremely costly investment in wearable symbols of power.
In addition to this practical function, the mirror is also a powerful symbol in Islamic religious prose and poetry, and the concept of reflection is found in many different art forms. Bilateral symmetry in textile design, mirror-image calligraphy, the idea of a carpet as a pool reflecting the medallion-like sunburst of the heavens, and countless poetic tropes about the Beloved, all demonstrate that the concept of the mirror occupies an important place in Islamic thought as well as in Islamic art. The Metropolitan’s iron mirror, taking its shape from a thirteenth-century Seljuq steel example now in the Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, is probably one of the earliest such mirrors to survive from Ottoman times.[2] The austere split-leaf or rumi decoration is typical of the period.
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See Denny, Walter B. "Mirror. IV. Islamic Lands." In The Dictionary of Art, edited by Jane [S.] Turner, vol. 21, pp. 717–18. 34 vols. London and New York, 1996; on Ottoman mirrors (in Turkish), see Sultanlarin Aynaları/The Sultans’ Mirrors. Exhibition, Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul. Catalogue by Filiz Cağman and others. Istanbul, 1998.
2. The early steel mirror is discussed in Cağman and others 1998,(see footnote 1) pp. 74–75.
[ Charles Ratton, Paris, until 1972; sold to MMA]
Corning, NY. Corning Museum of Glass. "Tales from a King's Book of Kings," November 17, 1973–January 31, 1974, not in catalogue.

Baltimore. Baltimore Museum of Art. "Tales from a King's Book of Kings," February 12, 1974–March 31, 1974, not in catalogue.

Museum für Islamische Kunst, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the M.M.A.," June 15, 1981–August 8, 1981, no. 109.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Metropolitan Vanities: The History of the Dressing Table," December 17, 2013–April 13, 2014.

Swietochowski, Marie, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Notable Acquisitions 1965–1975 (1975). p. 140, ill. (b/w).

"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 109, pp. 258-259, ill. p. 259 (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. 220, p. 311, ill. p. 311 (color).

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