The Mamluks developed a system of emblems or blazons to signify the role of courtiers serving under each sultan. This emblem dates to the reign of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaitbey (r. 1468–96) or of one of his successors, and is likely a fragment from an article of clothing or a piece of furniture. Numerous Venetian Renaissance paintings, including The Reception of the Venetian Ambassadors in Damascus, incorporate strikingly similar Mamluk emblems in their compositions.
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Title:Textile Fragment with Mamluk Emblem
Date:late 15th–early 16th century
Geography:Attributed to Egypt
Medium:Wool; appliqued and embroidered
Dimensions:Textile: Ht. 9 in. (22.9 cm) W. 12 in. (30.5 cm) Mount: Ht. 11 1/16" in. (28.1 cm) W. 14 3/8 in. (36.5 cm) D. 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1972
Textile Fragment with Mamluk Emblem
The Mamluks (1250–1517) in Egypt and Syria developed a system of emblems or blazons that indicated the office of a particular emir at the court; for example, the diamond-shaped figure of a napkin (buqja) for the Master of the Robes (jamdar), or a sword for the armor-bearer (silahdar).Since appointments at the court, including that of the sultan, were not hereditary, these symbols of office were not equivalent to the coats of arms of European families. In time, especially after the Circassian or Burji Mamluks came to power in 1391, these emblems grew in complexity and several symbols became incorporated in the same blazon, either because the emir had held different offices in the past or there existed a generic "logo"—irrespective of the office held—that linked a newly appointed emir to the sultan he served.
This seems to be the case of the present textile fragment—either from a piece of closing or furnishing—that is divided into three horizontal fields including a napkin on top, a cup with the symbol of the pen-box flanked by two horns or "Trousers of Nobility" in the middle field, and a second cup at the bottom. The color combination of both the background and the single elements probably helped to identify this particular emir, who is unfortunately unknown to us. There is little doubt, however, that he was in the service of the sultan al'-Ashraf Qa'itbey (r. 1468–96), since the few emirs who can be identified with this specific composite blazon were under his patronage.
These late 15th century emblems became familiar to the Venetian "Orientalist" painters, who probably interpreted them as coats of arms of the house of the Mamluks, through oral and written descriptions, colored sketches, objects, and textiles like the present one. The symbol of the cup flanked by two horns seems to have been particularly appealing to these painters. It became part of the architectural landscape in Giovanni Mansueti's anachronistic episodes from the life of St. Mark populated by a crowd in Mamluk costumes. In the famous painting illustrating a contemporary scene, the anonymous Reception of the Venetian Ambassors in Damascus (cat. 29 in this volume)—dated 1511 toward the very end of the Mamluk Dynasty—the emblem depicted on the walls of the palace of the sultan's representative in Syria is the very same as the present textile, including the colors of the background of the three horizontal fields. Little is known about the emblems of the emirs under Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri (r. 1501–16); they may have emulated those of earlier decades, but the close match with blazons related to Sultan Qa'itbey suggests that the Venetian painter–assuming he was indeed depicting an episode from the second decade of the 16th century—was relying on earlier visual documents in creating his Mamluk architecture.
Stefano Carboni in [Carboni 2007]
1. The buqja was a piece of cloth worn by the jamdar in which documents and other things were wrapped up, thus taking the stylized shape of a square or diamond.
2. The latter may have been individualized, making use of different colors.
3. Leo Ary Mayer, Saracenic Heraldry: A Survey, Oxford, 1933, pp. 19–22.
4. See for example Mayer 1933 (note 3), pls. LXII:3 (Sibay ibn Bukht Jukha), LXIII (Qajmas al-Ishaqi), LXVI:3 (from the Khan al--Sabun in Aleppo).
Fragment with Composite Blazon
Woven fabrics appliquéd with heraldic symbols are among the most characteristic Mamluk textiles. Many are coursely executed and represent the full range of blazons, including lions, stemmed cups, napkins, and swords. One of the more unusual pieces depicts a figure riding a mule, thought to be the emblem of the courier. Blazons identified the ranks of amirs and were used on banners, baggage, tents, and blankets as well as on the saddlecloths of horses and camels.
This example has a composite blazon placed in a circular shield, enclosed by a lobed medallion executed in blue. Some of the appliqués have disintegrated, and the original fabrics are visible only in minute areas. The shield is divided into three fields, designated by red, yellow, and dark blue. The upper field bears a white buqja or cloth in which clothes are wrapped, commonly called a "napkin". which was the symbol of the jamdar (master of the robes). The lower field has a white stemmed cup identifying the saqi (cup-bearer). The central field shows a blue stemmed cup charged with a white pen box, the combined symbols for the saqi and dawadar (secretary); flanking the cup is a pair of dark green elements with white tips. These elements were thought to be "trousers of nobility," because they suggest the legs of loose pants. Recently, they have have been identified as drinking horns or powder horns, both of which have obscure meanings.
Burji Mamluks used blazons with composite charges. In contrast to the Bahri blazons, which represented a distinct office held by an individual, these composite blazons were shared by a corps of amirs who served one master.
The particular combination of six heraldic signs seen on the appliqué was used by Sultan Qaitbay (1468–96) and his amirs. It was also employed by Sultan Janbalat (1500–1501) and Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri (1501–16), both of whom were formerly in the service of Qaitbay.
Sultan Qaitbay's composite blazon is found on a number of late fifteenth-century carpets and metalwork. A rug fragment in the Textile Museum shows an identical blazon with the same combination of colors. This blazon appears on a tinned-copper tray (no. 39 in this volume) as well as on other contemporary objects.
1. Cairo. Museum of Islamic Art, no. 13208. The same subject appears on a brass statuette and ceramic fragment in Cairo (nos. 18618 and 14691).
2 Mayer, L. A. Saracenic Heraldry: A Survey. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1933, pp. 19–22; and Mayer, L. A., "Une énigma du blazon musulman." Bulletin de l’Institut d’Egypt 21 (1938–39), pp. 141–43.
3. Washington, D.C. Textile Museum no. 1965.49.
4. Mayer 1933 (see note 2 above), pl. 1b.; Islamic Art in Egypt: 969–1517. Catalogue of a exhibition at the Semiramis Hotel. Cairo. 1969, no. 90.
[ Michel E. Abemayor, Frankfurt, until 1972; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, no. 124.
Paris. Institut du Monde Arabe. "Venise et l'Orient," October 2, 2006–February 18, 2007, no. 69.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797," March 27–July 8, 2007, no. 69.
Pesaro. Palazzo Ducale. "Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797," July 28–November 25, 2007.
Venice. Sala dello Scrutinio of the Doge's Palace. "Venezia e L'Islam, 828–1797," July 28, 2007–November 25, 2007, no. 69.
Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam : Art of the Mamluks. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. no. 124, pp. 240–41, ill. (color).
Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797. New York and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. no. 69, pp. 74–75, 320, ill. p. 75 (color).
Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venezia e l'Islam, 828–1797. Venice: Marsilio Editori, 2007. no. 49, pp. 91, 335–36, ill. p. 91 (color).
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