Few works with enamels have survived from the early Islamic period. The fabrication of this pendant is typical of Fatimid goldsmiths' craftsmanship: boxlike construction, gold stringing loops, openwork design with a strip support, S-shaped filler elements, and paired twisted wires. The enamels had to be secured to the back with an adhesive after the object was finished.
Beads (1980.456, .457) and pendant (30.95.37)
Among the luxury arts that flourished under the Fatimid caliphs, gold jewelry stands out for its innovation and complexity. According to literary sources, prodigious amounts of such jewelry were manufactured for both royal and patrician patrons; most of these items were later melted down for currency or refashioned into newer pieces. Gold jewelry elements of the Fatimid period share several distinct characteristics, including box construction rings for stringing, filigree openwork with S-curve decoration, and, at least until the later period, granulation. The three pieces here—two beads and a pendant—demonstrate all these characteristics.
Both beads exemplify the distinctive Fatimid tradition of filigree openwork with granulation. The biconical bead (1980.456) is divided into five sections by strips decorated with granulation along the body, creating an allover design of scrolls and S-curves. A nearly identical bead is found in the Khalili Collection, London. The spherical bead (1980.457) is composed of two hemispheres of curling scrolls that form heart-shaped units. Two eleventh-century gold rings from Fatimid Egypt in the Khalili Collection bear the same scrolled-heart motif on the bezels, shanks, and sides; this motif can also be seen in a drawing of a woman in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, dating from the Fatimid period.
Practically all the published Fatimid beads are independent, unattached to any larger piece of jewelry, but one exception shows how these beads might have been incorporated into a larger jewelry setting. A necklace in the collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, part of a hoard excavated at Caesarea, consists of several beads, the most important of which are one biconical and two spherical beads that form the centerpiece of the necklace. All three are constructed of openwork filigree and decorated with granulation. Because the necklace had been preserved in a vessel with other objects, it remained intact and presumably in its original form.
The pendant (30.95.37) employs the typical Fatimid box construction and filigree technique, using straight and twisted gold wire. The points of the crescent terminate in a turquoise bead, and several loops around its perimeter suggest that a string of gems originally embellished the border. At the center, a pair of confronted birds is depicted in polychrome cloisonné enamel, a technique more closely associated with Byzantine production in Constantinople than with the eastern Mediterranean during the Fatimid period. However, enamel work (known in the medieval Arabic literature as mina) clearly had appeal in Fatimid Egypt as well. One eleventh-century source mentions a gift from a Byzantine king to the Fatimid court that included five bracelets and three saddles, all encrusted with polychrome enamel. Another source includes jewelry with enameled elements in trousseau lists. The cloisonne enamel inserts on this pendant may have been purchased ready-made, perhaps imported from the Byzantine world, and then incorporated into the locally made gold setting, a theory supported by the construction of the setting and the apparent use of adhesive to fix the enameled plaque in place. A similar polychrome-enameled crescent medallion, which was excavated at Fustat, is in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. It, too, bears a confronted-bird motif.
Ellen Kelley and Karin Zonis (authors) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
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