Mosque Lamp, early 14th century
Islamic Gallery
Gallery 24, Ground Floor


Focus on the Object

Mosque Lamps

This enamelled and gilded glass mosque lamp comes from early 14th-century Egypt. Hanging oil-lamps like this were used widely in mosques in the Islamic world and would have been hung from the ceiling of the mosque from metal chains attached to the three glass handles. As with this example, such lamps were often decorated with part of a famous verse (Verse 24:35, The Light Verse) from the Quran, illustrating the importance of both light and lamps.


This lamp was first decorated in gilt (see below) and then the motif was outlined with a thin red line before being infilled with coloured enamels. The lamp celebrates Sultan Muhammad ibn Qala’un, whose name appears around the body and who was ruler of Egypt and Syria from c.1299 to 1341. On its flaring mouth it bears an Arabic quotation from the Quran.


Enamels or precious metals were applied to the glass in an oil-based medium using either a brush or reed pen. Because different substances required different temperatures to fix them permanently to the glass, a procedure was developed whereby all the colours could be fired together thus avoiding the possibility of deforming vessels through repeated heating.
Gilding: Gold is very soft and can be beaten into thin sheets and applied to other surfaces. In sheet form the gold is known as ‘foil’ and the thicker form is known as ‘leaf’. These are applied with an adhesive known as ‘mordant’. The gilt and enamel decoration is reminiscent of decoration found on contemporary inlaid metalware like candlesticks and deep basins.