Ivory Lid
Cordova, Spain
999 AD/389 AH
Gallery 24, Islamic Art


Focus on the Object


The object of the month is an ivory lid. Originally it was attached to a casket. This piece of carved ivory dates from 999 AD and is one of the finest Cordovan ivories preserved. The date 389 AH refers to the Islamic dating system whereby the year ‘0’ is dated from the Prophet Muhammad’s flight from persecution with his followers from his home town of Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. Their migration, known as the hijrah, forms the start of the Islamic era.

The object
The lid carving depicts a lively hunting scene, with the huntsmen in realistic poses. The four huntsmen on horseback are shown in the dramatic act of spearing their prey: deer, lions or leopards. The carving is exquisite. For example, look closely to see the horseman with his arm raised above his shoulder thrusting the spear into the deer, and the horseman crouching in his saddle to put maximum force behind his lance as a lion seizes it. Intricately carved birds and rabbits are shown in the background. Hunting scenes were favoured by the Islamic rulers, who liked to be depicted as courageous huntsmen.

The casket would have had a silver-gilt hinge, clasp and brackets. Such caskets were used for perfumes and other precious substances used at the royal court, for example sandalwood, ambergris, incense, musk, and, according to a contemporary description, “The powder which princes use against sweat in the summer”.