A minbar, or pulpit, consists of a podium reached by stairs with doors such as these at its base. It is used in mosques by imams, prayer leaders, to deliver the sermon at the main service of the week, at noon on Friday. These doors, with the intricate geometric inlay typical of the Mamluk period, are thought to come from the fourteenth‑century mosque of Saif al‑Din Qawsun in Cairo. They were one of the earliest bequests to the Museum, donated by Edward C. Moore, a designer at Tiffany and Co. who was inspired by Islamic art.
This pair of doors once belonged to a minbar and most probably came from the base of its stairs. An elaborate geometric design centered on twelve-pointed stars arranged in staggered rows decorates the front of the doors, which are constructed of rosewood. Plaques of ivory, intricately carved with arabesque designs surrounded by thin borders of inlaid wood, fill the interstitial spaces inside the interlace framework. On their reverse, the doors are made primarily of mulberry wood and decorated in a simpler manner than on the front, with an arrangement of horizontal and vertical panels carved with vegetal scrolls and inlaid with light-colored wood and ebony.
Originally, each leaf had its own rectangular frame. At some point before the doors came to the Metropolitan Museum, the inner vertical frame elements were removed from both leaves, which were then mounted together, with the result that the geometric pattern of the strapwork appears contiguous. Today a modern outer frame of beechwood laminated with rosewood surrounds the pair. These alterations may have been done by the previous owner, Edward C. Moore, who, before bequeathing them to the Museum in 1891, had them installed in his own residence.
The similarity of these doors to fragments of furnishings from the Mosque of Amir Qawsun, now at the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, suggests that they may have also come from that mosque. A published description of Qawsun’s minbar before the mosque’s demolition in 1873 included drawings detailing several of its elements, one of which is a panel decorated in an almost identical manner. An inscribed panel from Qawsun’s minbar bearing the date A.H. 727/1326–27 A.D. is now in the collection of the same museum. Other fragments said to come from this minbar were recently auctioned at the sale of the collection of Charles Gillot, who obtained them from Dikran Kelekian in 1900; one, an inlaid panel with a geometric design very similar to that of the Metropolitan’s doors, is now at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. As one of the most powerful and wealthy amirs during Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad’s third reign, Qawsun had access to the finest materials and most expert craftsmen of the period, and he may well have turned to them for the execution of this pair of doors.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Karnouk, Gloria S. "Form and Ornament of the Cairene Bahri Minbar." Annales islamologiques 17 (1981), pp. 113–39, pls. 1–6.
2. Thanks are due to Miriam Kühn of the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, for sharing her expertise on minbars and providing numerous images for comparison.
3. A painted portrait of the collector depicting him seated in front of these doors is reproduced in Jenkins-Madina 2000, p. 78, and Loring, John. Magnificent Tiffany Silver. New York, 2001, p. 24.
4. Karim, Chahinda. "The Mosque of Amir Qawsun in Cairo (730/1330)." In Historians in Cairo: Essays in Honor of George Scanlon, pp. 29–48. Cairo and New York, 2002, p. 45.
5. Prisse d’Avennes, [Achille-Constant-Theodore-Emile]. L’art arabe d’après les monuments du Kaire depuis le VIIe siècle jusqu’a la fin du XVIIIe. Paris, 1877, p. 107 and pls. 85–88.
6. The Danish Orientalist A. F. Mehren recorded this inscription in situ (Berchem, Max van. Matériaux pour un corpus inscriptionum Arabicarum. Part 1, Égypte. Vol. 1, Le Caire. Mémoires publiés par les membres de la Mission Archéologique Francaise au Caire, 19; Mémoires publiés par les membres de l’Institut Francais d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 25, 29, 43–45 (plates), 52. Paris, 1894, p. 178, no. 121). Van Berchem noted that this date precedes that of the mosque’s completion and posits that the minbar was made first; however, J. D. Weill contends that this plaque, when seen on the minbar, must have been in reuse (Weill, Jean David. Les bois à épigraphes. 2 vols. Catalogue général du Musée Arabe du Caire; Musée National de l’Art Arabe. Cairo, 1931–36, vol. 2, pp. 96–99, no. 7850).
7. Christie’s Paris, March 4–5, 2008, lot 40.
Edward C. Moore (American, New York 1827–1891 New York), New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. 54.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part III: Geometric Patterns," March 17, 1999–July 18, 1999, no catalogue.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 99, ill. fig. 44 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 127, ill. fig. 71 (b/w).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 127, p. 158, ill. (b/w).
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 26, ill. p. 26 (b/w).
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 318, ill. fig. 18 (color).
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Collecting the "Orient" at the Met: Early Tastemakers in America." Ars Orientalis vol. 30 (2000). p. 78.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 113, pp. 14, 139, 163-164, ill. p. 164 (color).
Canby, Sheila R. "The Islamic Galleries at The Met." Arts of Asia, Arts of Asia, vol. 42 (September/October 2012). p. 82, ill. fig. 3 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 134, ill. (color).