KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Trade, Venice and Egypt, Mamluks, calligraphy (thuluth script), lamp, blown glass
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS CHAPTER
Venetians prized enameled glass objects produced in Egypt and Syria. They collected and emulated Mamluk glass, inspiring the local production of enamel-painted glass vessels in Venice.
This enameled glass lamp was made for the mausoleum of a high-ranking Mamluk officer. It would have been suspended from an arch, lintel, vault, or dome by chains attached to the glass loops on the body, and filled with oil and a floating wick, which when lit would illuminate the lamp from within. In the days before electricity, these lamps were essential in providing light to the interiors of mosques and other buildings. One can imagine the visual effect of hundreds of such lamps hanging from chains, illuminating the interior of a mosque or tomb. (The Museum has re-created this effect in Gallery 454 with modern hanging lamps commissioned specifically for this space.)
This lamp features a semi-spherical body with a low foot and a wide opening. The enameled and gilded surface is decorated with three bands of calligraphy—one on the flare, one on the body, and a third on the underside of the vessel. The inscription on the body, which has been left unpainted, would have glowed when the lamp was lit. In addition to the calligraphic text, a pair of confronted bows set against a red circular ground appears nine times.
This lamp provides insight into the court life of thirteenth-century Egypt. An inscription indicates the lamp was commissioned for the tomb of a high-ranking Mamluk officer who held the title "Keeper of the [Sultan's] Bow"; the blazon, or coat of arms, on this lamp features a crossbow, the symbol of his office.
The Venetians admired and imitated floral decorative elements popular in Egypt during the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries (fig. 57). Luxury items from the Islamic world were readily available as models, having come into Venetian collections through trade and as diplomatic gifts.