This impressive candlestick is one of the few surviving examples of royal Rasulid metalwork. The Rasulids ruled Yemen for two centuries (AH 626/1228 AD to AH 858/1454 AD). Their strategic position was fundamental for Indian Ocean trade and most ships stopped in Rasulid ports before entering the Red Sea and reaching Mamluk ports. The link with Mamluk Egypt was one of the strongest and literary sources mention “frequent exchanges of embassies, often bearing gifts, and commercial relations between Yemen and Egypt which were not without influence on the art of Yemen” (M.S. Dimand, Unpublished metalwork of the Rasulid sultans of Yemen, Metropolitan Museum Studies, vol.3 pp.229-237 no.2).
This candlestick is dedicated to the Rasulid Sultan al-Malik al-Mujahid Sayf ad-Din ‘Ali (r. 1322-63) and was most likely made by a Mamluk craftsman. Despite occasional tensions between the two Sultanates, the artistic output of the Rasulid caliphate was greatly influenced by Mamluk taste and this candlestick is an example of this cultural exchange. The overall decoration follows the Mamluk aesthetic, with a large thuluth inscription interspaced by medallions and a dense foliate background. The five-petaled rosette found here is however a distinctive Rasulid mark of identification.
The reign of Sultan al-Mujahid was quite prolific in terms of artistic production and around twenty pieces of metalwork dated to that period and with similar decoration have survived. A tray now in the Louvre, also from the collection of Alphonse Delort de Gléon, is dedicated to the same Sultan and is decorated with similar copper five-petaled rosettes though lacks the silver inlay (S. Makarious (ed.) Islamic Art at the musée du Louvre, Paris 2012, p.265, inv.no. OA6008,). Another contemporaneous basin now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York has very fine silver inlay, similar to our candlestick (inv.no.91.1.589; M. S. Dimand, A Handbook of Muhammadan Art, New York, 1944. p.152.).
Alphonse Delort de Gléon, from whose collection this candlestick originally comes, moved to Cairo in 1869 to work with his uncle Jean Antoine Cordier and there developed a taste for Islamic art. He started collecting with other friends who shared the same passion, including Albert Goupil, Odon de Toulouise-Lautrec and Gaston de Saint-Maurice. In 1894 he donated part of his collection to the Louvre and subsequently had another large donation accepted in 1912 (F. Pouillon, Dictionnaire des Orientalistes de langue Française, 2012, p.299).