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HOME : Asian Art : Miscellaneous : Fatimid Rock Crystal Pendant Depicting a Bird
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Fatimid Rock Crystal Pendant Depicting a Bird - FF.053
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1000 AD to 1100 AD
Dimensions: 2.9" (7.4cm) high x 4.9" (12.4cm) wide
Collection: Islamic Art
Medium: Rock Crystal

Location: Great Britain
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At the height of their power, the Fatimid Caliphate ruled from their capital in Cairo much of the Islamic world, including North Africa, the Hejaz (region on the Arabian peninsula), and the Eastern Mediterranean,. However, their roots can be traced to the shores of Ifriqiya (in modern day Tunisia and eastern Algeria) where in 909 A.D. an imam from the Ismaili sect of the Shia branch of Islam declared himself caliph and adopted the name of al-Mahdi (the Divinely Guided One). Directly opposing the power of the Sunni Abbasids, the Fatimids legitimized their claim to authority by tracing their descent to Muhammad by way of his daughter Fatima (hence the name Fatimid) and her husband Ali, the first Shia imam. Soon after their founding, the Fatimids began to expand outwards, swiftly bringing all of the Maghreb under their dominion. Thereafter, the Fatimids set their sights to the East where the Abbasids centers of power lay. After numerous campaigns launched under multiple caliphs, the Nile Valley was finally conquered in 969 and the city of Cairo was founded as a new capital. Opulent mosques and centers of learning including al-Azhar University were constructed, as Cairo quickly became the spiritual center for Ismaili Shia. The opulence of the Fatimid court fueled a renaissance in the decorative arts and the arts flourished during the Fatimid era, which made Cairo the most important cultural center in the Islamic world. became a major center for the production of pottery, glass, and metalwork, ivory, and wood carving; specifically rock-crystal carvings that became treasured by the Caliphs themselves and throughout the Mediterranean world. In their ultimate pursuit of usurping Abbasid power, the Fatimids eventually extended their control throughout the Red Sea and the Hejaz (including the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina), thereby opening up direct sea routes with India and effectively diluting Abbasid trade with these foreign markets.   The middle of the 11th century marked the height of Fatimid power in the East, when a dissident general in Iraq switched sides and declared his allegiance to the Fatimids. Yet this turn of events was brief as Seljuk Turks soon regained control of Baghdad, marking the beginning of the decline of the Fatimid Dynasty. A combination of local opposition by the largely Sunni populations they ruled and outside attacks by Byzantines, Turks, and Crusader armies of Europe would ultimately prove lethal as the once extensive reach of the Fatimid Caliphate was eventually reduced to Egypt itself. By the time the last of a series of ineffective caliphs passed away in 1171, the vizier Salah al-Din had become the real master of Egypt and the Fatimid Caliphate was formally abolished.     Rock-crystal, a variety of clear quartz Rock crystal amulets were carved from a single block of rock crystal. Great skill and an equally long amount of time was required to carve out the object with its delicate, almost schematic features without breaking it; such items are in consequence considered to be amongst the rarest objects in Islamic art. Such objects may have well been originally used as talismans holding protective functions or magical properties but were possibly used as adornments as well. (FF.053) - (FF.053)


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