National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 5th century / AD 11th century
Hammered and moulded gold.
Diameter 12.5 cm
Late Fatimid or Atabeg
Possibly Raqqa, Syria.
Many techniques for the manufacture of gold were known in Syria, some appearing as early as the 2nd century BC. This armlet may look extremely heavy, but it actually consists of gold leaf into which decorations were hammered from the inside, before it was twisted into a hollow tube around wire. The seam where the two edges meet is disguised by a decorative band.
Inscription bands in kufic script, alternating with bands of gold cut on an angle, wind around the piece. The inscription is placed within an arrangement of vegetal patterns, the text of which may be translated as follows: “Extensive grace, full blessings, and enduring greatness”.
A hinge, seen on the left side of the picture, enables the bracelet to open when the draw-pin clasp, disguised by gemstones, is undone. The clasp itself has settings for four stones, all of which are missing. It is elaborately decorated with filigree domes, spherical granules and tiny twisted ropes of gold.
This bracelet is one of a pair the other is in the collection at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington. They differ only with respect to the inscriptions, which are similar in spirit but differ in wording, intended to bestow good luck on the wearer. The design and orientation of the inscriptions allows the wearer to read them without having to twist her wrists. A number of these phrases are found in pairs, and completing each other, so that a person could continue reading the inscriptions on both arms. It is also probable that a set would include bracelets and anklets similarly inscribed.
This opulent golden armlet has lost its precious stones but the moulded floral decoration and the filigreed clasp survive, as do the inscriptions of blessings. It would have been worn by a court lady as part of a complementarily inscribed pair.
The style of calligraphic inscription is datable to the Fatimid and/or early Atabeg periods. Both this armlet and that at the Freer Gallery in Washington can be dated by comparison with a similar pair (also at the Freer Gallery) and ornamented by discs struck from 5th- / 11th-century Iranian coins.
Purchased in 1939 in Raqqa.
The object was found in the Raqqa region. In general during this period, Mosul in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Raqqa and Aleppo in Syria and Cairo in Egypt were established centres of production for gold and other metalwork.
Atil, E. et al, Islamic Metalwork in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1985, pp.65–7.
Cluzan, S. et al (eds), Syrie: Mémoire et Civilisation, Paris, 1994, p.462.
Kohlmeyer, K. (ed), Land des Baal, Mainz, 1982.
Seipel, W., Schätze der Kalifen: Islamische Kunst zur Fatimidenzeit, Wien, 1998, pp.119–20; fig. 80.
Mona al-Moadin "Armlet" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;28;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 39
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Court Life Women | The Private Lives of Muslim Women
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