Courtly Art of the Ilkhanids

  • Jar with molded decoration
    56.185.3
  • Bowl
    34.151
  • Storage jar (albarello)
    57.61.12a,b
  • Jewelry elements
    1989.87a-l
  • Basin
    91.1.521

Essay

Members of the Ilkhanid court wore expensive clothes and accessories, whether they were traveling in luxurious tents or settling in one of their palaces for a while. They also surrounded themselves with opulent functional objects, from wine containers to serving trays, storage jars (56.185.3) to food bowls, lighting devices to wash basins. Some of these items may have been part of the traveling effects of the court, but the majority can be regarded as palace furnishings that were commissioned from the finest craftsmen. Little is known about direct sponsorship and court workshops because few extant objects include inscriptions with dedications or signatures. Nevertheless, the elaborate vessels inlaid with silver and gold and the lavish gilded blue-glazed lajvardina ceramics (34.151; 57.61.12a,b) must have been a familiar sight for the ruler and his entourage and for the most affluent people in Ilkhanid Iran and Iraq. Lajvardina (from the Persian lajvard, or lapis lazuli) tiles, painted in white, black, and red enamels and gold over a monochrome dark blue or turquoise glaze, were often used as well. The lajvardina technique seems to have been a specialty of Iranian potters during the Ilkhanid period alone and was abandoned after their rule.

Inlaid metalwork was highly prized and costly. The gold and silver inlays (91.1.521) that were gently hammered in the indentations carved in the bronze or brass surface have mostly disappeared, but it is still possible to appreciate the technical and artistic skills of the craftsmen who found inspiration in the new visual language brought by the Mongols. The best artists from Mosul in northern Iraq and Shiraz in southern Iran—two famous centers for metalwork—probably moved to the capital, Tabriz, to work for the court.

Luxury objects, jewelry, and clothing are often depicted in manuscript illustrations from the period, providing evidence of their existence and actual use at the court. The gold necklace (1989.87a-l) and a similar piece of jewelry illustrated in a page of the Great Mongol Shahnama are good examples of the correlation between the arts of the book and the decorative arts.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2003

Citation

Carboni, Stefano and Qamar Adamjee. “Courtly Art of the Ilkhanids.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/khan3/hd_khan3.htm (October 2003)

Further Reading

Carboni, Stefano, and Komaroff, Linda, eds. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002. See on MetPublications

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