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 (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Edward C. Moore, New York (until d. 1891; bequeathed to MMA)
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