Inkwell with Twelve Zodiac Medallions

Object Name: Inkwell

Date: late 12th–early 13th century

Geography: Attributed to Iran

Medium: Brass; cast, inlaid with silver and copper

Dimensions: H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm)
Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)

Classification: Metal

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1944

Accession Number: 44.131


The twelve signs of the zodiac are arranged around the surface of the vessel in groups of four, each surrounding a central medallion with a horsemen or a falconer.
Virgo (al-sunbula, "ear of corn") is the only sign of the Zodiac whose iconography is very different from that of Western cycles. For some reason, while the name of the constellation is al-cadhra ("the virgin") and it is depicted in astronomical treatises as a female figure, the name of the corresponding sign of the Zodiac was sunbula, after the brightest star of the constellation. Therefore, in representations on objects, the image of the female virgin was replaced by a male figure, evidently Gemini's Planetary Lord Mercury, who was shown as a farmer slashing ears of corn with a crescent-shaped scythe.