That the present vessel was intended for use as an inkwell is attested by the thick blackish mineral deposit on the base of the interior. The question however of for whom it was made and where is less easy to answer.
The shield in the centre of a roundel is undoubtedly original. Unlike on the candlestick in this sale which bears the same arms (lot 273), there is no trace of any other decoration underneath having been erased. The shape of the shield leaves no doubt of its having been made for a Western patron, presumably one of the knights of Outremer. A number of other examples are known of Muslim metalworkers in the service of the Christian community, particularly a series of magnificent vessels made for Hugh of Lusignan, King of Cyprus (Ward, R.: 'Metallarbeiten der Mamlukenzeit, hergestellt für den Export nach Europa', in Europa und der Orient, exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1989, pp.202-209). On many, the arms can be identified with a certain family, although to date that has not been possible with the present example.
This inkwell was conceived as an extremely opulent piece, with considerable gold inlay as well as silver, as is shown by the amounts that remain. The drawing is very powerful, allowing very little space for the vegetation which normally fills the background of such pieces. It is certainly reminiscent of the work of Zayn-al-Din, particularly in his smaller bowl in the Louvre (Atil, E.: Renaissance of Islam, Art of the Mamluks, exhibition catalogue, Washington D.C., 1981, no.20, pp.74-75) which is dateable to 1290-1310. The figural scenes are similarly crowded, and there is a very similar use of gold for the bands and trimmings on the human costume. Also the observation of the human costume is excellent, showing the archer with a European style helmet rather than the turbans or Mogol hats of the Baptistère de Saint Louis (Atil, E.: op.cit.. no.21, pp.76-79).
There is however one piece which relates even closer to the present inkwell, a candlestick in the British Museum (Ward, R.: Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, pl.17, p.28). Like the present example, that was also made for a Western patron, with a shield incorporated into the design. Not only is the rest of the design a complete band of dense fighting animals, but there is also the same amount of gold used in the inlay, in particular for the underbelly of one of the animals, a feature which can be precisely paralelled here. The slightly crude drawing of the meandering leafy vine band below is again very similar to that here. The arms have been identified with the Boldu family of Venice. The candlestick has been dated to circa 1400, which appears late in view of the very figural nature of the design. The candlestick does alos include in the design the small gold rosettes which are so typical of inlaid brasses of the third quarter of the 14th century (see following lot).
In her discussion of the British Museum piece, Rachel Ward indicates that it was made for a foreigner, the artisan acting on the instructions of a merchant intermediary. While the present piece could be another example of this, the appearance of identical arms having been added to the considerably earlier candlestick in the sale make it more probable that these were for a parton who was living in the area.