• 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 31



    Price Realised  


    Rising from short trumpet foot through swelling drop-shaped body to cylindrical neck with slightly pronounced collar, with simple loop handle with knop finial linking the neck and the body, the surface heavily engraved and inlaid in silver and gold, the body with four large cusped medallions with large scale figural depictions of rulers including two mounted hunting lions and two seated and surrounded by attendants and subjects and with angels supporting canopies above, the cusped medallions over a band of smaller scale figural decoration interspersed with small gold inlaid strapwork medallions, above and below this small cusped medallions containing paired seated figures, flanked by bands of dense knotted benedictory kufic, a band of chasing animals above and below, the neck with a register of monumental figures lining up around a central cross-legged figure, a small band of reciprocal triangles above and below, the foot with inscription giving the name of the maker, date and patron, the underside with stellar strapwork medallion, a further band of attenuated naskh around the interior of the foot, two small brass repairs, repaired breaks, most inlay around the body now lacking, areas of dark surface patination
    12 1/8in. (30.8cm.) high

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    The inscription in naskh around the foot reads: naqasha husayn al-hakim ibn mas'ud al-mawsili fi sana sab' wa thalathin wa sittami'a al-hamd li-wali al-ni'am ... yusif ibn al-kinabiri [Husayn al-Hakim ibn Mas'ud al-Mawsili designed this in the year six hundred and thirty seven. Praise be to [my] benfactor ... Yusif ibn al-K...ri].

    Inside the rim in naskh: al-'izz al-da'im wa al-iqbal al-shamil wa al-jadd al-sa'id wa al-ni'ma al-khalid wa al-nasr al-qasid wa al-sa'd al-fadil wa al-baqa li-sahibihi [Perpetual Glory and perfect Prosperity and rising Good-fortune and eternal Grace and smooth victory and exceeding Felicity and Long-life to the owner].

    The bands of kufic contain benedictory phrases similar to those inside the foot.

    This inscription clearly identifies the maker, an addition to the extant list of Mosul metalworkers. Neither the name Husayn al-Hakim nor that of his father Mas'ud appear to be recorded. Not only however does he use the nisba al-Mawsili, but there are also a large number of decorative details that link this ewer directly to the inlaid brass vessels that were clearly made in that city. There are six vessels that can be attributed with certainty to Mosul. These are the Blacas ewer in the British Museum whose inscription clearly states it to have been made in Mosul (Rachel Ward, Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pls.59 and 60, pp.81-2 among many other publications) and five vessels which carry inscriptions in the name of Badr al-Din Lulu, the vizier and then ruler of Mosul from 1210-1259 (detailed by D. S. Rice, 'The Brasses of Badr al-Din Lulu', Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol.13, 1950, pp.627-634). The influence of Badr al-Din Lulu on the spread of popularity of inlaid metalwork, which until his reign was only known in Eastern Iran, cannot be over-estimated. The metalworkers in Mosul were the earliest to use the technique west of Iran; their technical mastery and virtuosity led to the further spread of the technique both to Ilkhanid Tabriz and also to Ayyubid Damascus, resulting ultimately in the magnificent Mamluk vessels of the following century.

    The decorative repertoire of the present ewer is very similar indeed to the grandest of the pieces that can be securely attributed to Mosul. There are the two different types of key-fret ground on our ewer, one rectilinear, the other more curving, that are found on the Blacas ewer. All three pieces have a finely worked octagonal 'maze' roundel either in silver or gold used as a dividing motif between stretches of inscription. The central anthropomorphic inscription is also very close to that of the Blacas ewer, while the benedictory kufic is closer to that of the Munich tray (Meisterwerke Muhammedanischer Kunst, exhibition catalogue, Munich, 1910, pl.145). Specific iconography is found in common, notably the drawing of the roundel depicting a seated ruler on the left hand side with one figure kneeling kissing his hand and a second figure behind him holding a staff, in this case very clearly a caduceus. A very similar depiction can be found in the lower register on the Blacas ewer.

    The most impressive aspect of all on our ewer is the size and scale of the figural depictions. There are the four roundels on the body, and the band of figures around the neck. Two of the large roundels are mounted hunting scenes, variations of which are found on a large number of inlaid brass vessels from various dates and parts of the Islamic world. The third depicts an enthroned ruler with attendants, depicted frontally, which again is found throughout metalwork of the mediaeval period. It is the fourth depiction, the seated ruler with a figure kissing his hand that was noted above, that is the most unusual. This particular iconography seems to be specific to the Jazira and Mosul region. It is noted by Nahla Nassar on a variety of different metal objects, including a ewer in the Walters Art Museum (http://art.thewalters.org/viewwoa.aspx?id=22888) (Nahla Nassar, 'Saljuq or Byzantine: Two related styles of Jaziran Miniature painting', in Julian Raby (ed.), The Art of Syria and the Jazira, 1100-1250, Oxford Studies in Islamic Art I, Oxford, 1985, fig.2, p.89). As she notes, the depiction, notably the unusual headdress of the seated ruler, is also very similar to that found on the frontispiece to vol.XI of the Kitab al-Aghani now in the National Library in Cairo, inv.Adab 579, a manuscript that is generally attributed to the Jazira and which is dated AH 614/1217 AD. Nassar notes (on p.91) but does not reproduce, another appearance of the same iconography on an unsigned candlestick base in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. This candlestick is published by Eva Baer (Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art, Albany, 1983, pl.218).

    Of all the items of metalwork discussed in comparison to our ewer that candlestick base is the closest in decoration. This roundel noted above is almost identical in every detail, and it seems impossible that one could have been made in ignorance of the other. Ours adds two angels supporting a canopy above but is otherwise identical in almost every detail, including the caduceus. Could this possibly be a reference to Moses kneeling before pharaoh with his brother Aaron whose stick turned into a snake? It would explain why the headdress is one that is not found on any other figure. Both our ewer and this candlestick also share the same layout of four very large pictorial roundels, containing the same generic subjects although the hunting scenes differ in detail. In both they are linked by a central inscription band, and divided by paired roundels containing further figural scenes. In both the main roundels are linked to the upper and lower bands by elaborate panels of arabesques overlaying the bands. It is very tempting to attribute the candlestick base to Husayn al-Hakim bin Mas'ud.

    The shape of our ewer is well known in metalwork from the region. A number of ewers and vases are known with exactly the same proportions, one of the best of which, signed by 'Ali b. Hamud al-Mawsili and dated 1259 AD, is in the Bargello Museum in Florence (Islam, speccio d'orient, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 2002, no.95, p.121). A number of further examples are noted in our entry under the smallest of this form to have been published, sold in these Rooms 17 April 2007, lot 44, and under another, 11 April 2000, lot 267. The present ewer is however worked on a completely different scale, with a monumentality unknown in any other vessels of this shape. The form for larger ewers is usually that of the Walters ewer noted above, but here it the craftsman uses the form better known in far smaller vessels.

    This is an important addition to the corpus of signed Islamic metalwork. It is executed by a craftsman who is hitherto unknown, on the grandest of scales, is made right at the highpoint of Mosul metalwork, using a form that is unknown on this scale, decorated in a complexity of design that is up to the standard of the best of all mediaeval inlaid brass vessels.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    UK collection since the 1980s