Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 8th–9th century / AD 14th–15th century
Ivory inlaid with niello.
Length 22 cm
Egypt, probably Cairo.
A kohl container that is composed of a stretched hollow ivory prism-like body, comprising a hexagonal cross-section divided into six planes. At both ends of the body are two decorative forms, one of which is in the shape of a flower on the brink of unfurling. Each face of the six identical sides is decorated with six rosettes, each of which is made up of six petals. Each of the rosettes is separated from its neighbour by two triangular shapes which conjoin at their tips. Each plane in turn is separated from the other, by a thin decorated band.
This container was used as other kohl vials were during the period to put kohl in to the eyes in order to beautify them as well as to medically treat them. In fact the title of kahhal (eye doctor) was given to those who specialised in treating eyes. The use of kohl was widespread in Egypt from the Pharonic period onwards, and was made from raw copper, lead and from burning the saffron plant. Kohl vials were made from copper, silver and glass in addition to ivory.
Muslim women paid great attention to their appearance and tools like this kohl container were used for beautification or health of the eyes. Kohl containers were made in a variety of forms and materials such as brass, silver, and glass. The kohl itself was prepared from copper, lead and burnt saffron plant.
This container was dated by means of studying the geometric decorative components and the six-petalled flower decorative units, both of which decorative motifs appear on many Mamluk metallic and wooden objects preserved in museum collections and private archaeological collections in Egypt or abroad.
The container was bought from the antiquities dealer, Muhammad Zahir in 1913.
A great number of glass kohl containers, still containing the remains of kohl, have been found during the course of archaeological excavations carried out in the City of Fustat in Egypt. It is likely that the object was produced in a workshop in Cairo.
Abdel Azim, R., and Sayour, S., “Parfums et cosmétiques dans le monde arabo-musulman”, Catalogue d'exposition, Cairo-Paris-Marseilles, 2002.
Hamdi, A. M., Mu'addat al-tajmil bi-mathaf al-Fan al-Islami [Cosmetic Implements at the Museum of Islamic Art], Cairo, 1959.
Muhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim "Kohl Container" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;6;en
Prepared by: Muhammad Abbas Muhammad SelimMuhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim
He graduated from the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University in 1974 and received an MA on Abbasid Tiraz textiles from the same university in 1995. He has worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo since 1975. He attended a textile conservation course in Vienna while studying different collections at Austrian museums for five months. He co-authored the first catalogue of the Abegg Foundation in Bern in 1995, the catalogue of the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo and the forthcoming catalogue of the Egyptian Textile Museum. He lectured on Fatimid Art in Switzerland in 1997 and at the Ismaili Centre for Islamic Studies in London in 2003. He has classified and studied the Islamic collection at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, and is currently preparing to publish its catalogues.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 09
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Women | The Private Lives of Muslim Women The Mamluks | Everyday life in the Mamluk Sultanate
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