• Art of the Islamic and Indian  auction at Christies

    Sale 7751

    Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds

    6 October 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 53



    Price Realised  


    Of circular tapering form, with a thickened rim and a rounded base, the shoulder engraved with a large band of bold thuluth inscription on dense foliate ground with fleshy leaves divided by six circular medallions, three with horse-riders and hunting scenes and three with central blason naming Al-Malik al-Salih on a ground of large lotus flowers, a lower band of floral arabesque with tear-drop motifs around the base, the inner side engraved with a large solar rosette and eight rippling fish, rubbed, some of the gold and silver inlay remaining
    13¼in. (33.6cm.) diam.

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    The inscription reads bi rasm al-maqarr al-karim al'a,li al-mawlawi al-amir,i al-kabiri al-'amili al-ghazi a,l-mujahidi al-murabiti, al-maliki al-salihi, (For the honourable authority, the exalted, the lordly, the great amir, the learned, the diligent, the triumphant, the holy-warrior, the defender, [the officer of] al-Malik al-Salih).

    In the blazons al-Malik al-Salih.

    As other activities related to the furusiyya (equestrian activities), polo was a very popular game under the Mamluk dynasty and a part of the military training of the amirs. Commonly found on metalwork, polo players are either represented in friezes or isolated within medallions. Whilst some representations of the theme can be slightly static, the polo players depicted here have a vivacity usually found on the finest and examples of Mamluk metalwork. The horse riders turning and raising their polo clubs are not dissimilar to those of the cavetto of the Baptistère de Saint Louis, probably made between 1290 and 1310 (D. S. Rice, The Baptistère de Saint Louis, Paris, 1953, p.16, fig.11-12). Although the rest of its decoration appears consistent with vessels of the first half of the 14th century, the figures of our bowl undoubtedly show resemblance with earlier metalwork. A bowl in the Benaki Museum has comparable horsemen and is dated late 13th century (Anna Ballian, Benaki Museum, A Guide to the Museum of Islamic Art, p.121, fig.153).

    The blazon inscribed with the epithet of Al Malik al-Salih can refer to al-Malik al-Salih Isma'il (r. 1342-5), al-Malik al-Salih Salih (r. 1351-4) or al-Malik al-Salih known as al-Mansur Hajji II (r. 1382 and 1389-90). In his discussion on a silver and gold inlaid tray stand in the Nuhad Es-Said Collection that bears an identical inscribed blazon and similar vegetal patterns, James Allan stresses that "the stylistic changes between circa 1350 and 1370 [] indicate that this [piece] could hardly be a product of Sultan Hajji's reign" and that stylistic similarities to earlier pieces would make the attribution to Isma'il (1342-4) more likely (James W. Allan, Islamic metalwork, The Nuhad Es-Said Collection, London, 1982, p.96, fig.19).

    It is not totally certain, however, that this bowl was made in Egypt for one of the two Egyptian rulers that bore the title of al-Malik al-Salih and reigned between 1342 and 1354. It could well have been done within the Mamluk sphere in the early 14th century for another potentate named al-Malik al-Salih. Two Ayyubids bearing this title are recorded during this period. One of them ruled over Hama between 1310 and 1332 (Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The New Islamic Dynasties, Edinburgh, 1996, p.72).

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