Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mosque Lamp for the Mausoleum of Amir Aydakin al-'Ala'i al-Bunduqdar

Object Name:
Mosque lamp
shortly after 1285
Made in Egypt, probably Cairo
Glass, brownish; blown, folded foot, applied handles; enameled and gilded
H. 10 3/8 in. (26.4 cm) Diam. of rim 8 1/4 in. (21 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 454
This lamp’s inscriptions reveal that it was ordered for Aidakin’s mausoleum (turba), a building still standing in Cairo. Mamluk amirs adopted emblems, often connected with their ceremonial roles at court, which decorated the objects and buildings they commissioned. Here, the motif of two gold crossbows against a red shield illustrates the office of bunduqdar (bow‑keeper).
Enameled-and-gilded glass "mosque lamps" are among the most ambitious, distinctive, and sought-after products made in Egyptian and Syrian glass factories during the Mamluk period. Every mosque, madrasa, khanaqah (hospice), and mausoleum that flourished within the Mamluk sultanate would have required many, and in some cases dozens of, mosque lamps. Each holding a saucer filled with oil and water and a floating wick, they were suspended from the ceiling by means of long metal chains at just over a man’s height from the floor. The resulting "forest" of dimly lit lamps neatly arranged in rows—their light glowing through the gilt and the glassy enamels—must have been quite an impressive sight for worshipers entering a mosque.
The technique of enameling allowed glass workers extraordinary creative freedom, not only in decorating an object but also in adding inscriptions. Mosque lamps usually bore the most appropriate verses from the "Sura of Light" (Qur’an 24:35) and thus emphasized the luminous presence of God. Many inscriptions, however, blended religious and secular themes by also providing the name of the patron who commissioned the building. The present mosque lamp is somewhat unusual because it carries only a dedicatory inscription, copied around the neck in blue enamel and then again around the body in gold.
This historical inscription, a rare occurrence in glass studies, reveals much useful information and establishes the lamp as the earliest datable one from the Mamluk period. The keeper of the bow (bunduqdar) was a high-ranking officer of the complex Mamluk court system and had the right to display his own emblem, here appropriately illustrated as a stylized golden bow against a red background.[1] "‘Ala’i" means that the bunduqdar, who had begun his career as a slave (as was common under the Mamluks), had maintained the patronymic of his first owner, the amir ‘Ala’ al-Din Aqsunqur. The patron of this lamp was undoubtedly Aydakin al- ‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar, who, according to one source, died in Cairo in June 1285.[2]
The inscription reveals that the lamp was commissioned for Aydakin’s tomb (turba), which was erected about 1284 near the Citadel in Cairo as part of a complex that also included his daughter’s tomb and a khanaqah. The tomb chamber, a small room of about sixty-four square feet, still contains Aydakin’s wooden grave marker (tabut) and a keel-arched prayer niche (mihrab). This lamp was once suspended either directly over the tabut or in front of the mihrab as a testament to his life and social status.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, enameled-and-gilded mosque lamps became popular among European collectors, and a large number of them were taken from their buildings in Cairo and sold. J. P. Morgan, who donated this work to the Museum in 1917, had acquired it in 1904 through a Paris sale from Emile Gaillard, who was apparently its first European owner.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The bunduq, a term commonly translated as "hazelnut" in Arabic today, was a bow that propelled pellets (hence, "nuts") rather than arrows.
2. Mayer 1933, pp. 83–84.
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in thuluth script on neck and body:
ممما عمل برسم تربة المقر العالي/ العلائي البندقدار/ قدس الله روحه
From [the objects] that were made for the tomb of His High Excellency
al-‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar (the keeper of the bow), may God sanctify his soul
Emile Gaillard, Paris (until d. 1904; sale, Hôtel Gaillard,Paris, June 7–16, 1904, no. 579, to Morgan); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1904–d. 1913; his estate 1913–17; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Calligraphy West of China," March 15, 1972–May 7, 1972, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #26.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Glass of the Sultans," October 2, 2001–January 13, 2002, no. 114.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

Mayer, Leo Aryeh. Saracenic Heraldry : A Survey. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933. pp. 83–84.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 240, ill. fig. 156 (b/w).

Nickel, Helmut. "A Mamluk axe." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 216, ill. fig. 5 (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 21 (color).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Glass: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 44, no. 2 (Fall 1986). p. 40, ill. fig. 47 (color).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 51-52, ill. fig. 36 (color).

Soucek, Priscilla, ed. Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World : papers from a colloquium in memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Monographs on the fine arts, vol. 44. University Park, PA: College Art Association of America, 1988. pp. 225, 253, ill. fig. 20 (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. 17 (color).

Strouse, Jean. "J. Pierpont Morgan: Financier and Collector." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 57, no. 3 (2000). p. 63, ill. fig. 74 (color).

Carboni, Stefano, David Whitehouse, Robert H. Brill, and William Gudenrath. Glass of the Sultans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. no. 114, pp. 228-230, ill. p. 229 (color).

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. 109, pp. 4, 139, 160-161, ill. p. 160 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 226-227, ill. pl. 45 (color).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 130, ill. (color).

Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 47, ill. fig. 33 (color).

Related Objects

Enameled and Gilded Bottle

Date: late 13th century Medium: Glass, greenish; blown, folded foot; enameled and gilded Accession: 41.150 On view in:Gallery 450

Mosque Lamp of Amir Qawsun

Date: ca. 1329–35 Medium: Glass, colorless with brown tinge; blown, blown applied foot, enameled and gilded Accession: 17.190.991 On view in:Gallery 454

Pair of Minbar Doors

Date: ca. 1325–30 Medium: Wood (rosewood and mulberry); carved, inlaid with carved ivory, ebony, and other woods Accession: 91.1.2064 On view in:Gallery 450

Mamluk Carpet

Date: early 16th century Medium: Wool, (warp, weft and pile); asymmetrically knotted pile Accession: 22.100.52 On view in:Gallery 454

Mosque Lamp

Date: 14th century Medium: Glass, colorless with yellow tinge; blown, applied blown foot, enameled and gilded Accession: 91.1.1539 On view in:Gallery 454