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Inkwell

datation
12th-13th century
provenance
Ghazni
area
period
themes
The inkwell is of a type common in the 12th-13th centuries in the region of Khurasan (North-East Iran - Western Afghanistan), renowned for its metallurgic production. It has a cylindrical body with slightly tapered walls, with three ring handles equipped with hinges and applied on palmette-shaped plates. It has a flat shoulder lid, over which rises a dome-shaped lobed element with a final umbo, which serves as a hold. Also on the lid there are three horizontal semicircular handles positioned on the vertical wall. The decoration on the body is rich and refined, and is inspired by the use of the object; it develops, in fact, a pattern of trefoil and pointed arches, framing three squatting figures of scribes, represented in the act of preparing the pen and write; they wear a hat with ribbons hanging from the sides and pairs of bracelets and are set against a background of vegetal spirals, among which, in two cases, we can identify a pen holder. The arches are delimited by a continuous ribbon that produces knots and also defines the other decorative areas. Those among the arches are decorated with vegetable spirals. Refined, well-wishing inscriptions in Arabic, addressed to an anonymous owner, in Kufic and cursive characters, unfold within rectangular cartouche on the shoulder, on the vertical wall of the lid and at the base of the body. The lobes of the dome on the lid feature vegetal motifs. The inkwell was found in the palace of Mas‘ud III, and more precisely in one of the rooms which was later used as a kitchen and located in the southern area between room II and room III. This inkwell and another similar specimen, now preserved at the National Museum of Oriental Art ‘G. Tucci’ in Rome were found near two large jars of clay. The latter inkwell, also in copper alloy, in a shape similar to the one presented here, is provided with three legs. It differs in decoration, which in this case consists of nielloed, non-damascened silver plates, applied with mastic on the base metal. The plates are of different shapes: three circulars ones on the body, three trapezoidal ones on the lid shoulder and three pyriform ones on the lobes characterizing the dome on the lid. The decorative motifs draw on the usual Islamic repertoire, that is, pairs of addorsed birds, inscriptions in Kufic with auspicious content, which are repeated in the three scrolls on the lid shoulder, and vegetal motifs. The finding of the two inkwells, which occurred in 1958, was greeted with great excitement by archaeologists because it was the first time that metalwork of a certain importance came from regular excavations, not only in Ghazni, but in all of Afghanistan. The inkwell featuring the images of the scribes was exhibited, along with a selection of finds in different materials from the excavations and research carried out in Ghazni, in the Islamic Museum of Rawza, set up in the mausoleum of ‘Abd al-Razzaq (14th-15th century) and inaugurated in 1966. There is currently no information relating to any of the metal pieces on display in the museum, and this is the reason why the metals from Ghazni preserved in the ‘G. Tucci’ Museum in Rome (some rings, a tubular bracelet with cone-shaped ends, a brooch with a openwork ending, the ring handle of an oil lamp with a bird-shaped ending, four spoons, a fragment of colander, a small lamp with open reservoir, a rectangular tray and a mirror) are the only surviving findings of the collection. Non-destructive (ED-XRF - Energy Dispersive X Ray Fluorescence) analyses carried out on some of the above mentioned metallic findings preserved in Rome have revealed that the main material is actually not bronze, with the sole exception of the mirror, but a copper alloy (brass?), with a proportion of zinc varying from about 9% to approximately 17% (inkwell, spoons, colander); in some cases there is a similar ratio of zinc and tin (approximately 4% or 5%), with the addition also of lead (small lamp, brooch), which is conventionally called quaternary alloy. The fragments of the mirror contain high levels of tin (ca. 18%). The small tray is lead (ca. 99%), while the rings and bracelet are in copper (approx. 99%).

see also