Amid the splendour of the Arab Hall at Leighton House in West London, two Christie’s specialists discuss a 14th-century Mamluk brass basin and an exquisite ceramic imitation made in 19th-century France
‘This is from the high point of the Islamic period in Egypt, during which some of the most impressive objects were commissioned,’ explains Islamic Art specialist Sara Plumbly, introducing a gold and silver-inlaid basin created during the Mamluk dynasty, which ruled over Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517.
Offered in the Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds sale on 20 October, the basin is seen here displayed in the Arab Hall of London’s Leighton House, which was commissioned by 19th-century painter Frederic, Lord Leighton. The hall was inspired by Leighton’s travels in Egypt, Turkey and Syria, and its ornate splendour reflected the period’s revival of interest in Islamic art and architecture.
The Arab Hall is, says Plumbly, an apt location to discuss a second basin offered in the sale, made in France almost 500 years later. Likely to have been produced by Collinot & Cie, the piece is almost an ‘exact copy’ of a Mamluk original. The ‘shape, calligraphy and figural decoration’ all echo designs produced during the dynasty, explains fellow Islamic Art specialist Romain Pingannaud.
The calligraphy on the ancient Malmuk basin, explains Plumbly, is a ‘strong, cursive’ variety known as thuluth, while the later French makers have echoed the style, using a flowing script that is not just decorative, but legible Arabic. Translated as ‘the worldly, the exalted, the master’, this text on the more recent basin references the titles afforded to Mamluk kings and sultans.
Each of the basins is remarkable for its period. Alongside the calligraphy on the Mamluk basin, roundels depict hunters and sultans, following a figurative tradition that became increasingly rare shortly after it was made. This combination of styles, explains Plumbly, makes the basin ‘a very interesting transition piece’.
Intriguingly, Collinot & Cie chose not to replicate the metalwork traditionally favoured during the Mamluk dynasty, creating instead incredible detail in enamelled ceramic. The technique employed was so successful that maker Eugene Collinot took out a patent in 1860.