The Mamluk dynasty was known for transforming the skyline of their capital, Cairo, during the fourteenth and fifteenth century with ambitious architectural projects punctuated by fine woodwork craftsmanship known for its harmonious geometrical designs, bold symmetry and formal strength.
The European craze for Orientalism in the nineteenth century saw a renewed interest in Mamluk architectural models. One of the seminal exhibitions of Islamic art, Die Meisterwerke für Muhammedanischer Kunst, held in Munich in 1910, exhibited various Mamluk carved wood polygonal elements. A number of comparable examples subsequently entered the collections of numerous European museums (see Die Meisterwerke für Muhammedanischer Kunst, Munich, 1910-12, Tafel 250, kat. no. 2199).
Sotheby's recently sold a pair of Mamluk wooden panels later mounted as doors in the nineteenth century belonging to Octave Borelli Bey (1849-1911), a notable lawyer living in Cairo at the turn of the century, from his home in St Tropez (Sotheby's, London, 20 April 2016, lot 86). Another Frenchman, Count Gaston de Saint Maurice, did the same and produced a set of doors in the nineteenth century with ivory plaques dating between 1300-40 and 1480-1520 to be mounted in his Neo-Mamluk home in Cairo (now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, inv. no.77.1). These were also displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878, attesting to this fashionable trend.
This panel not only exemplifies the Mamluk mathematical genius for producing such geometric compositions, but also testifies to the continued European admiration for such works to the present day.