Guide to Mamluk Art
The Mamluks ruled an empire based in Egypt that extended west to Syria north into what is now Central Turkey and south into the Sudan. Of course that included Palestine and the Levant as well. Their rule lasted from from 1250 to 1517.
Mamluk means “slave” or “owned” in Arabic and the Mamluks trace their origin to a slave caste of Cicassian bought by the Ayyubid sultans. Realizing the military potential of the warlike Turks they quickly became the bodyguards and elite shock troops of the Ayyubid dynasty. The Mamluks finally grew stronger than their masters overthrowing the last Ayyubid Sultan Turanshah in 1250.
The Mamluk reign was one of fighting but also of culture and riches. Sitting on top of major trade routes including the Nile river, the western terminus of the Silk Route and the short caravan route that provided access between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea (the sea route to India). Until the Portuguese circumnavigated the Horn of Africa the Mamluks were at the hub of world trade.
The David Sylvester Mamluk carpet fragment
A Mamluk carpet fragment, Egypt, first half 16th century
London, Bond Street 5,000—7,000 GBP Session 1, 26 Feb 02 2:30 PM
253 by 178cm., 8ft. 4in. by 5ft. 10in.
Mamluk carpets were usually attributed to Asia Minor or Damascus in the 19th century and it was Valentiner in 1910 who appears to first suggest an Egyptian origin for this group of carpets, see, Pinner, R. and Franses, M., East Mediterranean Carpets in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Hali Vol.4, No.1, 1981, p.37.
Mamluk carpets, and this piece is no exception, have design and structural characteristics which set them apart from other Eastern carpet weaving traditions. Their design consists of predominantely geometric forms in-filled with floral patterns. A limited palette is used with lac red, moss-green and light blue as the principal colours. The wool is characteristically soft and lustrous, almost silk-like in quality, and it is ‘S’ (clockwise) spun and ‘Z’ (anti-clockwise) plied, whereas in most other Eastern pile carpets wool is ‘Z’ spun and ‘S’plied. For a full discussion on the structural characteristics of Mamluk carpets, see, Kühnel, Ernst and Bellinger, Louisa, Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington, D.C., 1957, p.80.
The chronology of Mamluk weavings is still not conclusive. One of the most basic divisions in dating this group of carpets has been the distinction between those woven with three colours as the present lot, and those using a five to seven colour palette. Scholars remain divided as to which, if either, of these colour schemes is earlier or later. Mamluk carpets precede the so-called Cairene carpets which evolved after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The Ottoman carpets woven in Egypt retained the Mamluk colour scheme while incorporating floral elements in their designs, for one example please see lot 35 in this catalogue. For related Mamluk examples see, Erdmann, K., Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets, London, 1970, p.142, fig.179; Charles Grant Ellis, Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1988, p.121, pl.39., and Sotheby’s London, 12th October 1988, lot 421. For a further discussion on Mamluk carpets see, Ellis, op.cit., pp.117-127 and Pinner and Franses, op.cit., pp.33-39.
Mamluk carpet 16th century
A Mamluk carpet, Egypt, 16th century linen backed, extensive repiling, small cobbled repairs, partial end guard borders, approximately 20ft. 3in. by 13ft. 9in. (6.17 by 4.19m.)
The Egyptian attribution of Mamluk carpets is established by their unusual structure whereby the wool is “S” (clockwise) spun and “Z” (anti-clockwise) plied, unlike the majority of Eastern weavings.
Mamluk design is based on the interplay of geometric forms and the subtle layering and juxtaposition of a limited color-palette, creating ever more sophisticated and complicated aesthetics.
The current lot is an unusual example of Mamluk weaving. Firstly, for a Mamluk of such grand scale, its centralized format, with a single non-symmetrical octagonal medallion, is a design usually seen on smaller carpets from this group. Secondly, the startling appearance of two pairs of human figures in the lower spandrels, is apparently unparalleled within the known catalogue of Mamluk carpets, although the rendering of these figures is consistent with those displayed on Egyptian artifacts of that period.
The Tipu Sultan Sword with fifteenth-century Mamluk or Ottoman Damascus watered steel blade
Country of Origin: Damascus Syria in the Ottoman Empire
Date of Origin Circa A.D.1550
with fifteenth-century Mamluk or Ottoman blade of true Damascus watered steel, slightly curved, double-edged towards the point and retaining traces of a series of cartouches punched and engraved towards the base (patches of light rust staining and the back edge slightly reduced towards the point), silver-gilt hilt cast in relief and further heightened by contrasting punched matted segmental panels, including a pair of shaped langets coming to an ogival point, a pair of quillons formed as tiger’s paws, and shaped solid grip inset with a garnet front and rear and richly decorated with crystal, rubies and emeralds set within a bubri pattern, the pommel formed as a tiger’s head thickly encased in gold on a wooden core, profusely decorated with rubies and diamonds, the teeth formed of diamonds and the tongue, eyes, whiskers and brow all studded with rubies, finely punched in imitation of a pelt and incorporating a basal collar further studded with small rubies (one ear slightly damaged), in its original scabbard constructed in the neo-Indian taste, involving facing panels of black leather enriched with gilt flowers, large silver-gilt mounts formed with openwork patterns matching the langets of the hilt, inset with three calligraphic roundels front and rear, engraved with a running pattern of plantain leaves and flowerheads along the edges, and with a running bubri pattern over the full length of the borders
On the scabbard mounts, repeated six times:
Qur’an, surat al-saff (lxi), parts of 13
The pommel was evidently made to match the eight larger tiger’s head finials which surrounded the rail of Tipu Sultan’s celebrated gold throne. Two finials are known to survive, one sold in these rooms, 19 March 1973, lot 180, and another from the collection of the second Lord Clive, now at Powis Castle; see Mohammad Moienuddin, Sunset at Srirangapatam, After the Death of Tipu Sultan, New Delhi, 2000, p. 53, pl. 2
JBOC: There is a popular theory today that these blades are neither Damascene or Mamluk but are really wootz steel from India. This has been added to by a suggestion of Carbon nanotubes in the steel that increase interest in the subject. In the November 16 2006 Nature magazine the following abstract of a paper by Reibold, M; Paufler P, Levin AA, Kochmann W, Pätzke N, Meyer DC was published
A Rare Syrian or Mamluk Egypt ivory inlaid micro mosaic decorated games board
Country of Origin: Damascus Syria in the Ottoman Empire
Date of Origin Circa A.D.1550
A rare ivory-inlaid and micro-mosaic decorated games board
Syria or Egypt, 15th/16th century
composed of two rectangular sections hinged together, on the exterior with a chess board, the interior with a recessed backgammon board, the applied decorated of ivory, wood, metal wire and stained ivory, the interior with a central band of micro-mosaic forming interlocking hexagons and triangles formed by interlacing strapwork in ivory banding, within borders of a chevron pattern and further micro-mosaic stellar motifs, each section with twelve darts terminating in a cinquefoil palmette and enclosed within a patterned arcade, the outer edges with further panels of micro-mosaic and decorative banding, the exterior with squares alternately of light and dark wood enclosed in marquetry banding and an outer border of chevron pattern
The rarity of early micro-mosaic work cannot be overstated. The nature of the work makes it easily susceptible to accidental damage and the vicissitudes of ageing. This games board, for these very reasons, is an extraordinary survivor from this early tradition.
The elaborate decoration allows for comparisons to be drawn with some of the few other extant examples from this group. Two of the most notable pieces of furniture with this decoration are in Cairo, in the Museum for Islamic Art, inv. nos. 449 and 452 (illustrated in Wiet 1930, p.34, and Frankfurt 1985, vol.2, p.322, fig.88, respectively). Both are Qur’an cases and both are originally from the mosque of Sultan Shaban II completed in 1369 A.D. They are also both decorated in a similar style with panels of micro-mosaic, ivory and wood borders and panels of arcades. This establishes a sense of the decorative treatment for such objects in the fourteenth century. Therefore, we can see from this that the basic decorative programme of our games board has, in large part, been set out by this date. Several shared features are worth noting. The most striking is the use of arcading, clearly architectural in its origin and echoing the decorative style used on contemporary Mamluk and early Ottoman structures. Secondly, the design of micro-mosaic panels in all three pieces follows a similar pattern of interlocking hexagons and triangles. The structure of the stellar forms in the micro-mosaic borders is also comparable. One Qur’an box , inv. no.452, has a chevron-like edging which would appear to be the origins of that similar chevron pattern on our games board. A chevron pattern very close to that on our pieces appears on a fourth item from this group, also a games board, thought to be from the Mamluk period (Wapler/Riqlés, 7th June 1999, lot 89).
This games board, then, is a continuation of a style of furniture decoration established by the fourteenth century and probably in continued use through the Mamluk period and into the early years of Ottoman rule in this region.
Mamluk Egypt or Ayyubid Syria Purple Marvered Glass 12th-13th C.
Country of Origin: Mamlaluk Egypt or Ottoman Syria
of globular form with flat base and narrow opening, white glass trailed across purple and applied to rim
Marvered glass such as the present jar were in high demand in both Mamluk Egypt and Ayyubid Syria, and perhaps even earlier during the Fatimid period. The most popular colour combination appears to have been the purple body with white marvered trails, as seen here. The quality of this particular jar is quite outstanding with the carefully symmetrical trailing, the applied glass rim and the light, thin glass with few bubbles. It is remarkable also in the fact that it is intact, extant examples of high quality marvered bowls are rare; and this jar would appear to be related to some fragmentary pieces in the al-Sabah collection (Carboni 2001, cat.82a,b,c, p.308-309).
Antique Mamluk Carpet Cairo Egypt, Sixteenth Century
Mamluk Carpet, Cairo Egypt, Sixteenth Century
Warp: Wool, golden beige, probably dyed S3Z.
Weft: Wool, golden beige, probably dyed, S3Z, 3 shoots alternating each equally wavy.
Pile: Wool, S3, some S4, asymmetrical knots open lefty, up to 20 degrees alternate warp depression.
Density: 7H by 9 – 10 V
Sides: One cable of three body warps with weft return selvage.
Ends: Both top and bottom not original,
Size: 20ft. 3 in. by 14 ft. 8 in. (6.18 by 4.27 m.)
Colors: Four: wine red, pale blue, pale green, pale yellow.