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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection 4 : Bronze Mortar
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Bronze Mortar - LO.1199
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 12th th Century AD to 13th th Century AD
Dimensions: 5" (12.7cm) high x 5.98" (15.2cm) wide
Collection: Islamic Art
Medium: Quarternary Bronze

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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Large mortar of cast bronze with incised designs and decorated with twelve almond bosses. The surface covered with kufic inscriptions amidst foliage and arabesques.

Bronze mortars were unknown to the cultures of the Mediterranean area and the Middle East in pre-Islamic times and were probably developed in Persia in the 10th century as copies of cruder stone prototypes. Mortars were used for pounding small amounts of food, such as spices or herbs in cookery, and were also an important item of alchemical and pharmaceutical equipment.

During the Seljuk period, they were often made of quaternary alloy consisting of copper and lead with some tin and zinc, known in medieval Persia as shabah mufragh. The high content of lead (acting as a flux) allowed an easier casting but gave the objects a softness whose effects are to be seen in the many surviving examples which are misshapen though heavy pestle work. Indeed they must have been a rather sinister source of lead poisoning.


For an almost identical bossed mortar from the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, formerly in the Veselovsky Collection see : Hayward Gallery, The Arts of Islam, 1976: pl.181, p.171. LO.1199. Mortar and pestle, cast bronze with engraved decoration. The cylindrical body rests on a flat base and is decorated by series of almond- shaped elements in high relief, alternately turned up and down; between them there are simple engraved scrolls placed within triangles. There is an epigraphic band below the rim, written in Kufic style. A matching pestle is attached. Iran or Central Asia, 12th – 13th century. Prof. Geza Fehervari Prof. Geoffrey King - (LO.1199)


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