Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 8th century / AD 14th century
Wood; decorated in high relief and incised.
Length 7.5 cm, width 7.5 cm
A comb, approximately square in shape, which has fine teeth on one edge and thick ones on the other. In the area between the two sets of teeth there is a thin rectangular field, embellished with a circle in the middle, and two framed rectangular areas that are incised. In the centre of the circle is a blazon in the form of a fleur-de-lys. On the two sides of the circle are two depressed triangular zones, inside of which are three tiny concentric circles, executed by using a stamping device on the front and the back of the comb's side edges. There is an inscription written in naskhi script and carved in high relief that reads: 'Eternal Glory and Prosperity'. A series of tiny scattered circles intermingle with the inscription. The comb has similar decorations on the front and back.
The section between the two sets of teeth is considered to be the most important. The craftsman was able to show off his skill by employing a variety of epigraphic, geometric and vegetal motifs; depictions of living creatures such as birds and fish were also included. The central section of the comb was also often embellished with a blazon of the person for whom it was made: fleur-de-lys, a goblet, a pack or clothes' bundle (the blazon of the person responsible for the sultan's wardrobe) or a polo stick. Studies of the decorative styles and production techniques used on the central sections of combs have certainly helped enormously in the dating of them.
Some of the more curious inscriptions recorded on these combs include: 'I am a comb made to comb none but the beautiful'; 'May God dispose in the best way'; 'He who hides my secret, is my master'. Some inscriptions indicate that combs were designated specifically for the use of women. Besides combs for the hair, there were combs with teeth on one side only, which were used to straighten the beard. In his work Al-Khitat (1853), the author and historian, al-Maqrizi refers to a suq that specialised in the manufacture and sale of combs, called Suq al-Amshatiyyin (the Market of the Comb-Sellers). He located the suq between the Madrasa Salihiyya and the Suq al-Sagha (the Market of the Goldsmiths) in Cairo.
Combs were used for grooming a woman's hair or a man's beard. Some, like this one, had a set of teeth at each end. In most cases combs were decorated with incised geometrical, vegetal, animal, fish or bird shapes or blazons and inscriptions.
The comb was dated according to the style of the inscription on it, which resembles recorded inscriptions on other Mamluk objects. In addition, the widespread use of the depiction of the fleur-de-lys on Mamluk objects points to a Mamluk-period piece. Furthermore, the decoration on this comb, together with the design and execution, closely complements other such combs in the collection at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, some of which carry the names of Mamluk amirs.
The comb was bought by the Museum from an antiquities dealer in 1912.
The comb was uncovered during an archaeological excavation in Fustat, Egypt, and it would appear to have been the property of a merchant. It is worth mentioning that a large number of combs have been discovered in archaeological expeditions in Fustat as well as in other cities in Egypt.
The object is unpublished but the reader may find interesting reading in the following:
Abdel Azim, R., and Sayour, S., “Parfums et cosmétiques dans le monde arabo-musulman”, Catalogue d'exposition, Cairo-Paris-Marseilles, 2002.
Al-Maqrizi, Al-mawā'iz wa'l-i'tibār bi-dhikr al-khiţaţ wa'l-āthār [Exhortations and Contemplation of the Recollection of Plans and Monuments], 2 vols, Cairo, 1853.
Hamdi, A. M., Mu'addat al-Tajmil bi-Mathaf al-Fan al-Islami [Cosmetic Implements at the Museum of Islamic Art], Cairo, 1959.
Salah Sayour "Comb" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;8;en
Prepared by: Salah SayourSalah Sayour
Salah Ahmad Sayour holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University (1973) and is currently studying for an MA in the same field. In 1979 he had a four-month scholarship at Austrian museums to study museology. Preparing exhibitions for the Museum of Islamic Art's collections in the Arab World Institute, Paris and curating exhibitions held in host museums in the USA and Paris augmented his experience leading to his appointment as head of several sections at the Museum. He has written several articles on Islamic painting and arts for Prism Magazine published by the Ministry in different languages and has participated in preparing scientific texts for the catalogues for the Museum's exhibitions at home and abroad.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 15
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Mamluks | Everyday life in the Mamluk Sultanate Women | The Private Lives of Muslim Women
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