Casket lid with huntsmen and animals

On display

The art of ivory carving in Spain was at its height when this lid was made at the end of the 10th century. It was once part of a cylindrical box made of ivory and fitted with silver hinges. The box and lid were carefully carved out of an elephant tusk, most likely imported from East Africa.

The carved decoration depicts a lively hunting scene with four huntsmen on horseback in the dramatic act of spearing their prey: deer and leopards. The inscription carved around its base mentions the year in which the piece was made (389 in the Islamic calendar, corresponding to 998-999 AD), as well as the name of its patron Abu’l-Mutarrif, son of the grand vizier to the Umayyad Caliph of Spain Hisham II (r. 976-1009 AD).

This type of cylindrical container would probably have held perfumes and other precious substances used at the royal court, such as ambergris, camphor, and musk.

Details

Further reading

J. B., ‘A Dated Ivory Box of Hispano-Arabic Origin’, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 18/1, (1923), passim, illus. p. 6

Rosser-Owen, Mariam, ‘A Córdoban Ivory Pyxis Lid in the Ashmolean Museum’, Murqanas: An Annual of the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, 16, (1999), passim, figs 1-10

Piper, David, and Christopher White, Treasures of the Ashmolean Museum: An Illustrated Souvenir of the Collections, revised edn (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1995), no. 121 on p. 116, illus. p. 116 fig. 121

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