With a diameter of almost sixty centimeters, this majestic fourteenth-century basin is probably the largest of its kind. It is dateable to the decade after the reign of the Mamluk sultan al-Malik al-Nasir Muhammad of Egypt and Syria (1285–1341), one of the most active patrons of both art and architecture. Inlaid metalwork, in particular, flourished during this period. The surviving basins, ewers, trays, and incense burners are notable for their scale and bold calligraphic designs.
This basin is made in brass and has an elegantly flaring rim. An inscription in stately thuluth script occupies almost the entire surface—from the base to the curve of the rim. Monumental letters and words solemnly march around the width of the vessel and are interspersed with two epigraphic blazons. Even without its original silver inlay, the inscription’s grandeur is by no means diminished.
Similar to other metal objects created during the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad, the basin’s inscriptions begin by praising the sultan. They end with the word bin, or “son,” meaning that it was intended for one of the ruler’s sons. Eight of them ruled briefly after al-Nasir Muhammad’s death in 1341, a period of considerable political unrest that was worsened by the outbreak of plague.
Another important innovation of later Mamluk metalwork was radial inscriptions. These consisted of the sultan’s titles written around a circle. Fanning like the rays of the sun, the design underscored the ruler’s power and strength. The motif was repeated on buildings and on portable objects in all media.
Egypt or Syria, Mamluk period, ca. 1340–50
Brass inlaid with silver and black organic material
H ×D: 26 ×57 cm
Purchase in honor of Julian Raby’s outstanding leadership as director of the Freer|Sackler (2002–17)—Charles Lang Freer Endowment and funds provided by Giuseppe Eskenazi and the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Freer Gallery of Art F2017.12