The al-Sabah Collection contains almost two thousand items of metalwork ranging from elaborately worked vessels inlaid with precious metals to simply cast bronze finials in the form of animals. Islamic metalworkers, whether in Cairo or Herat, often fashioned relatively simple forms covered the surface in dazzling engraved or precious metal-inlaid patterns of arabesque interlace, processions of animals or long benedictory inscriptions. Objects with calligraphy as decoration occur more frequently in metalwork than any other medium used for objects of utility. These range from benedictory inscriptions to verses from the Qur’an to lines of poetry, and sometimes include the signatures of the artists.
The ancient Near East has a long history of working in copper alloy and bronzes and brasses (copper alloyed with other metals) became the most important material in the mediaeval period. Objects are almost invariably sculpturally powerful, and examples of everyday objects such as oil lamps or incense burners became works of art. Brass was especially popular in the Mamluk domains. In the later period, especially in Iran and India, steel was used for decorative purposes; despite its hardness, it could be cut in openwork patterns, such as arabesques and calligraphic compositions as delicate as lace.
View some of our metalwork collection below.