Around the body:
'The high authority, the lordly, the great amir, the possessor, the conqueror, [at the service of] al-Malik al-Nasir’
Around the shoulder:
'The high authority, the lordly, the great amir, the leader, the conqueror, the holy warrior, the well-served, [at the service of] al-Malik al-Nasir’
The term ‘Mamluk’, meaning ‘owned’ in Arabic, is used to refer to the Turkic warrior slaves who initially served the Ayyubid dynasty prior to emerging as rulers in their own right. The Mamluk sultans ruled over key territories in the Islamic world including the holy cities of Mecca , Medina and Cairo which, as the Mamluk capital, developed into an artistic and cultural powerhouse of paramount significance.
The period would see an extensive patronage of art and architecture as a means to display wealth and political power. The Mamluk elites constructed lavishly decorated mausolea, madrasas and mosques which in turn necessitated the growth in the production of decorative objects.
Surviving Mamluk metalwork consists of bowls, dishes, boxes, arms, armour and candlesticks made for ornamentation or active usage. Much of the inlaying techniques and styles were derived from a pre-existing tradition with its roots in twelfth century Iran and Iraq which gradually spread westwards. By the thirteenth century high level metalworkers, usually based in Damascus or Cairo, excelled at intricately inlaying silver and gold into brass or bronze wares. Many of these artisans had migrated from the East to escape the socio-economic upheavals caused by the Mongol invasions (Yalman 2001). By the fourteenth century the European and Mediterranean export market became an important revenue stream for such objects resulting in increasing diplomatic exchanges. Venetian merchants were crucial to the wider export of Mamluk metalwork and several cities under the Mamluk Empire had permanent Venetian diplomatic presences. It is believed that the longest reigning fifteenth century Venetian doge, Francesco Foscari, was even born in Mamluk Egypt. It is not surprising then that some Mamluk inlaid metalwork has been called ‘Veneto-Saracenic’ based on the theory that some Muslim artisans may have even established workshops within the city of Venice itself.
Inlaid candlesticks were typical of the products found in Mamluk workshops with a particular emphasis on large thuluth calligraphic panels bearing the name of the ruler or an intended patron. Candlesticks of this design and quality were largely produced in the first half of the fourteenth century and their splendour reflected their role as an important part in Mamluk ceremony. The inscription on this candlestick affirms that it was intended for a member of the court of the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad (1293 -1341 AD).
The wax candles that would have been housed in such a piece were equally as extravagant, being strongly scented and possibly decorated with silver or gold leaf (Ward 1992, p.67). Fourteenth century sources note the quality of such candles being carried in ceremonial processions by the amirs and their households (Allan 1982, pp. 82-82).
This conically based candlestick would have been hammered from two soldered brass sheets. Much of the missing inlay would have been of silver and a black organic material applied to the background would have provided a sharp contrast to the metal inlays. A similar candlestick, also attributed to Sultan al-Nasir, was sold in these rooms, 8 October 2008, Lot 116. Two further examples can be found in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo (Wiet 1932, nos.4043 and 3982, pls.XXXI-XXXII).