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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection Consignment : Bronze Mortar with Incised Decoration
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Bronze Mortar with Incised Decoration - LO.651
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 12 th Century AD to 13 th Century AD
Dimensions: 5.75" (14.6cm) high x 6.25" (15.9cm) wide
Collection: Islamic art
Medium: Quarternary Bronze

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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Octagonal cast bronze mortar with incised niche-shaped cartouches on the body enclosing a buraq amidst swirling foliage. The rim and the base decorated with registers of incised kufic inscriptions.

In the Islamic tradition, the buraq was a creature said to have transported the Prophet Muhammad to heaven. Described as a white animal, half- mule, half-donkey, with wings on its sides, Buraq was originally introduced into the story of Muhammad's night journey (isra') from Mecca to Jerusalem and back, thus explaining how the journey between the cities could have been completed in a single night. Sometimes mistakenly described as Muhammad's horse, the buraq was a creature described as being part eagle and horse, thus resembling a pegasus. An excerpt from a Sahih Muslim hadith describes a buraq:"I was brought by the Buraq, which is an animal white and long, larger than a donkey but smaller than a mule, who would place its hoof at a distance equal to the range of vision." In literature and art, often portrayed with the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock, the buraq is mostly visible in the sacred manuscripts, where the creativity of the artist was less hampered by religious restrictions. In both a leaf from a copy of the Bustan of Sacdi dated 1514 originally from Uzbekistan and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), and a 16th Century manuscript of Khamsa of Nizami in the British Library (London), narrating the Mi'raj, or ascension of the Prophet, Muhammad is depicted on his steed, the buraq. The artist has painted the legendary creature prancing forward as about to take a leap into the Seven Heavens, her human face depicted frontally. Comparable anthropoid depictions of the buraq are known also from many engraved metal vessels dating to the Seljuq period.

Bronze mortars were unknown to the cultures of the Mediterranean area and the Middle East in pre-Islamic times and were probably developed in Persia in the 10th century as copies of cruder stone prototypes. Mortars were used for pounding small amounts of food, such as spices or herbs in cookery, and were also an important item of alchemical and pharmaceutical equipment. They were often made of quarternary alloy consisting of coper and lead with some tin and zinc, known in medieval Persia as shabah mufragh. The high content of lead (acting as a flux) allowed an easier casting but gave the objects a softness whose effects are to be seen in the many surviving examples which are mis- shapen though heavy pestle work. Indeed they must have been a rather sinister source of lead poisoning.

For a discussion on early Islamic mortars see: Hayward Gallery, The Arts of Islam, 1976: pp. 157-171. LO.651. Mortar and pestle, cast bronze with engraved decoration. The octagonal body rests on a flat base which has a slanting rim, similarly slanting everted rim is on the top. Each side of the octagon is decorated by an engraved lobed arch which on their tops terminate in a trefoil; inside each arch there is a standing sphinx over scrollwork. On the slanting part of the base and the rim epigraphic bands run around, written in Kufic style. A matching pestle is attached. Iran or Central Asia, 12th – 13th century. Prof. Geza Fehervari Prof Geoffrey King - (LO.651)


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