Ivory box from the Cathedral of Braga
Cathedral of Braga Treasury
Hegira 394 / AD 1004 and Hegira 398 / AD 1008
Ivory; worked in bas-relief.
Height 20 cm, diameter 10 cm
Umayyads of Córdoba, Caliphate period
Córdoba, Spain (?)
This small ivory box made from a piece of elephant's tusk has retained its cylindrical form, supporting a dome-shaped lid. This lid consists of a small drum with an inscription in kufic Arabic running round it and a calotte (small dome) topped by a small pear-shaped cap. The lid is secured to the body of the container by a fine hinge of bronze and still retains, in the same material, the fixed parts of a clasp into which a catch was inserted.
The entire surface of the piece is finely worked in bas-relief, in detailed chisel and knife work. The decorative composition takes the form of a sequence of horseshoe arches standing on colonnettes with capitals of acanthus leaves and two volutes. On top of each arch and surrounded by the same border of corded carving is a series of goat-like creatures and birds. As well as these, does and birds of paradise stand out here and there from the intricate plant patterns that cover the whole surface. Under one of the arches, two finely sculptured figures are gathering the fruits of a tree, in a manner similar to depictions of the harvest in the late antique world. The calotte of the lid, all of which is also engraved, depicts a sequence of octagonal medallions containing zoomorphic designs.
The propitiatory words in kufic script inscribed on the lower part of the lid, framed by two rows of cord patterns, indicate that it was commissioned by the hajib Abd al-Malik, son of al-Mansur, the powerful military chief who encouraged several raids in the north of the Peninsula at the end of the 10th century. The peaceful nature of the representations has led us to believe that it was made as some kind of personal commemoration (such as a marriage).
Small ivory box commissioned by ‘Abd al-Malik, son of the powerful al-Mansur. The pacific nature of the images (farming scenes, deer and birds of paradise) suggests that it may have been made for some personal commemoration.
Commissioned by ‘Abd al-Malik, son of al-Mansur
From the inscription.
By donation or through plunder, the box ended up in the possession of the Cathedral (Sé) of Braga into whose treasury it was incorporated in the early Middle Ages.
On the basis of the name of the person who commissioned it.
Almeida, C. A. F. de, “Arte Islâmica em Portugal”, in História da Arte em Portugal, Vol. 2, Lisbon, 1988, pp.73, 87–8.
Barroca, Mário, “Cofre”, in Nos Confins da Idade Média, exhibition catalogue, Lisbon, 1992, p.93–4.
Gómez Moreno, M., “Arte árabe Español Hasta los Almohades”, Ars Hispaniae, Vol. 3, Madrid, 1951, p.299.
Cláudio Torres "Ivory box from the Cathedral of Braga" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;pt;Mus01_C;28;en
Prepared by: Cláudio TorresCláudio Torres
Cláudio Figueiredo Torres, licenciado em História e História da Arte pelas universidades de Bucareste e Lisboa e Doutor “Honoris Causa” pela Universidade de Évora, é director do Campo Arqueológico de Mértola que fundou em 1978. Foi agraciado com o Prémio Pessoa em 1991.
Depois do 25 de Abril de 1974, durante vários anos foi docente de História Medieval e Arqueologia islâmica na Universidade de Lisboa, chefe da Divisão Cultural da Câmara Municipal de Mértola e Director do Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana. Desde 2004 é coordenador em Portugal do Programa EUROMED- Fundação Anna Linht. Nos últimos 30 anos tem dedicado a sua investigação e publicado vários trabalhos sobre a civilização islâmica em Portugal.
Translation by: Gilla Evans
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: PT 38
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Echoes of Paradise: the Garden and Flora in Islamic Art | Visions of the Heavenly Garden and the Tree-of-Life The Muslim West | Court Life
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)