Enamelled glass and inlaid brassware were both techniques produced in Mamluk Egypt and Syria from the 13th century, and widely exported. Their point of export was probably Damascus, one of the main trading centres in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Luck of Edenhall, Syria. Museum no. C.1-1959
The Luck of Edenhall
Glass beaker: Syria, 1250–1300
Leather case: probably England, 1450–1530
Museum no. C.1-1959
The shape and decoration of this enamelled glass beaker are typical of Mamluk glass production of the late 13th century. It probably found its way to England through trade, where its sophisticated materials made it a prized object. It has been perfectly preserved by the leather case that was made for it, probably after the mid 15th century. The lid of the case is moulded with Christ's monogram, IHS, probably as a protective talisman.
This beaker was a precious family heirloom for the Musgrave family of Cumbria. A legend grew up that it had been left to their ancestor by fairies who cursed him for disturbing their secret banquet, and that if it were damaged or broken, they would lose their family home of Eden Hall.
Footed goblet, Italy. Museum no. 7536-1861
Museum no. 7536-1861
This beautiful goblet demonstrates the technical supremacy of Venetian glass in the late 15th century, after the invention of a colourless glass, known as cristallo, that was as clear as rock crystal. The form, on a high, bell-shaped foot, and the decoration, of dots of coloured enamels forming simple floral motifs, is characteristic of the drinking vessels and other tableware produced in Venice at this time. These were such luxury products that they were even sent to the Mamluks as diplomatic gifts,and traded to Islamic lands on the luxury market. An almost identical goblet, now in the Corning Museum of Glass, was said to have been found in the Jewish cemetery in Damascus.
Circular tray with inscriptions, Egypt. Museum no. 420-1854
Circular tray with inscriptions
Egypt, probably Cairo
Museum no. 420-1854
This impressive tray shows the kind of inlaid metalwork made in the Mamluk empire from the late 13th century. Mamluk art of the 14th century did not usually show figures, and other forms of decoration became more prominent, especially plant ornament and monumental inscriptions such as those which encircle this tray. Most of the silver inlay has been lost, but originally the letters would have stood out boldly against the minutely decorated ground. These inscriptions contain blessings for the reigning sultan, and mention al-Malik al-Mansur, a title borne by two sultans who ruled in 1341 and from 1361 to 1363.
Dishes such as this came to Europe through trade or as diplomatic gifts, and their impressive inscriptions were copied on European-made objects. However, by the end of the 14th century, Mamluk tastes began to change in response to the import of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, and the production of inlaid metalwork declined.
Brass ewer with 'Veneto-Saracenic' ornament, Netherlands or Germany. Museum no. M.32-1946
The Molino Ewer
The Netherlands or Germany, decorated in Venice
Museum no. M.32-1946
This fascinating object, known as the Molino Ewer, demonstrates two different patterns of taste in 15th-century Venice: that for Netherlandish brassware, of which this shape with its handle and spout in the form of dragons is typical, and that for Islamic-style decoration, with which this ewer is covered. A brass ewer imported from Northern Europe may have been sent to Egypt for the decoration to be added. The motifs include elaborate pseudo-Kufic inscriptions, and lotus flowers, a Chinese motif which was introduced to Europe via Mamluk trade routes (it is shown here upside down). On the lid is the coat of arms of the Molino family of Venice, for whom this ewer was so luxuriously adapted.
Inlaid brass bowl with cover, Egypt or Syria. Museum no. 2290-1855
Inlaid brass bowl with cover
Egypt or Syria
Signed by Master Mahmud al-Kurdi
Museum no. 2290-1855
Mamluk production of brasswares decoration with silver resumed in the reign of Sultan Qa'itbay (1468–96), who has been credited with the revival of several traditional crafts and the introduction of others. One type of brassware produced in this period is decorated with larger arabesque and knot motifs, slightly raised above the surface and overlaid with silver. The spaces between are filled with a tiny pattern of arabesques.
During the late 15th and early 16th century large numbers of such items were exported to Italy and other European countries. Later these imports were copied by Venetian craftsmen, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between these and the Mamluk originals. This example, however, was signed by its maker, Mahmud al-Kurdi, in Arabic, and it was mostly likely made in Egypt. Mahmud signed several other pieces and seems to have played a leading role in this industry.