'The high imam…/ fortune of the world…/ the bringer of justice, the defender of the borders/ the assisted by God, officer of al-Malik al-Nasir'
This bowl is an exceptional example of Mamluk metalwork. The inscription contains formulaic phrases and blessings ending with ‘officer of al-Malik al-Nasir’. Most probably commissioned by a high-ranking officer at the Mamluk court, the title may refer to two Sultans: Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir [Muhammad ibn Qalawun] (r.1294-1341) or Sultan al-Nasir abu al-Ma’ali Badr al-Din al-Hasan (r.1347-61).
The shape of the present bowl, with rounded, inward sloping sides and a vertical rim, can be compared to an example in the Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, inv. no.799 (illustrated in Eredita’ dell’Islam: Arte Islamica in Italia, Venice, 1993, pp.310, no.178). Another is in the Galleria e Museo Estense, Modena, inv. no.2062 (ibid, p.308, no.175). A closely related bowl in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (inv. no.AKM610), also features a silver inlaid thuluth inscription with benedictory citations that mentions an officer of al-Malik al-Nasir (Spirit & Life, Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collection, exh. cat., Geneva, 2007, p.185, no.158). A further close comparable is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (inv. no.2010.218), attributed to the reign of Nasir al-Din Muhammad ibn Qalawun.
The combination of formulaic inscriptions with more organic floral details is typical of Mamluk art, and can be seen on works of various media, including metal, glass, and on architectural monuments. For example, a basin in the David Collection, Copenhagen (inv. no.Isl 223) attributed to the fourteenth century, was blown in the same shape and decorated in enamel with a calligraphic inscription and lotus flowers.
A gold and silver-inlaid brass dish embazoned with the name of Sultan Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un was sold in these rooms, 28 April 2004, lot 105. An armorial candlestick made for the standard bearer of al-Malik al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un, attributed to circa 1317, was sold in these rooms, 5 October 2010, A Princely Collection: Treasures from the Islamic World, lot 92.