When the Arabs conquered large swathes of territory around the Mediterranean basin during the early Islamic conquests of the 7th century AD, they encountered already well established metalworking centres. As a natural consequence, the material, shape and decoration of early Islamic vessels share many similarities to their pre Islamic equivalents, preserving old traditions and making it particularly difficult to differentiate between pre-Islamic and early-Islamic metal objects. Whilst the process took close to two hundred years, eventually new distinctly Islamic styles began to become more noticeable, with a number of key changes from pre-Islamic objects. Firstly, the material of the objects was changed, namely the previously much favoured precious metals (i.e. gold and silver) were replaced by bronze which was more acceptable to Islamic customs. Secondly, the styles of surface decorations were transformed when pre-Islamic designs of human and animal figures were supplemented instead, by geometrical and floral patterns and epigraphic bands. It is the ornamentation of these vessels that reveal their Islamic origin, helping to differentiate from pre-Islamic forms.
The Tareq Rajab Museum’s collection of Islamic metalwork concentrates on a much narrower range than it’s other collections, with many of its objects dating to the Seljuq period of Iran and Central Asia (12th – 14th century AD). However, there are notable vessels from other parts of the Islamic world, including Egypt and Syria. One of the earliest objects in the collection is a 7th century AD bronze incense burner thought to have originated from Syria during the Umayyad period and shares many similarities from Byzantine vessels of the same type. Other notable examples include an extremely rare cast bronze Islamic incense burner of a Buddhist Stupa from 12th century AD Afghanistan and a Fatamid bronze lion incense burner from between the 11th – 12th century AD which also serves as the Museums mascot. The museum is also home to a number of examples of metal ewers, pitchers, jugs, trays, bowels, cauldrons, oil lamps and inkwells among other things.
A few notable examples of the metalwork housed in the museum
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