Court & Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq

This metal bag is the focus of the Court and Craft exhibition. It was designed to be suspended from the shoulder and would originally have had a strap attached to either end of it. It’s made of brass but originally the inlay of gold and silver would have almost completely covered the base metal. We set out with this exhibition to discover what the object is, who it was used by, where it was made and when it was made. And our conclusion is that it’s a bag that was made for a Mongul noblewoman, in Mosul, in the early 14th century. The Il-Khanates conquered Mosul in 1262 and Mosul is the city where we think the bag was made. On the body of the bag you have a series of roundels on all of the sides. In the centre of the front and the back you have this incredibly intricate interlaced roundel with at its heart an image of a horseman. The horseman on the front is out spearing a lion and on the back he’s holding a falcon, and it shows the very central importance of hunting in the medieval period. The other roundels contain drinkers and musicians and all of this is on a geometric ground — a sort of interlaced, interconnecting T-fret design, which is probably inspired by Chinese textiles. The lid, on the other hand, is decorated with a court scene, a very intricate court scene, depicting a man and a woman seated at the centre, surrounded by attendants, some of them pouring drinks, offering them drinks and food. At one end you have a falconer and on the other end you have a lute player, and beside the woman you have her page. And he’s wearing, suspended across his chest, a bag, very similar to the one on exhibition. Around the court scene on the bag you have this narrow frieze with an Arabic inscription. The Arabic inscription contains good wishes, blessings for the owner of the bag. The inscription itself is arranged in pairs of words, with the second ones rhyming, so it creates this wonderful melodic sound when you hear it read. I think that the objects that we’re showing in this exhibition demonstrate how Mosul continued as an inlay, metal working centre for more than a hundred years.

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