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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection 4 : Bronze Mortar and Pestle
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Bronze Mortar and Pestle - LO.875
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 11 th Century AD to 12 th Century AD
Dimensions: 2.75" (7.0cm) high x 4" (10.2cm) wide
Collection: Islamic Art
Medium: Bronze

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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Small bronze cylindrical mortar with everted flattened rim, engraved with dotted circles all around. An outstanding encrusted patina throughout the surface of the mortar and pestle.

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.The small size of this beautiful mortar would seem to indicate a pharmaceutical use, rather than cookery.

Mortars during the Seljuks were often made of quarternary alloy consisting of copper 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 also been a rather sinister source of lead poisoning.

Our example is indeed made of bronze with a minimal content of lead, judging by the hardness of the alloy and its minimal decoration.Dotted circles were a trademark of Khurasan and Central Asia, or what is now known as western Afghanistan, during the ninth to the eleven centuries. They were frequently used on metalwork, pottery and wood carving. It might have been produced prior to the emergence of the quarternary alloy. This would explain its simple yet refined profile, betraying an elegance beyond time.

For a discussion on early Islamic mortars see: Hayward Gallery, The Arts of Islam, 1976: pp. 157-171. - (LO.875)


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