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AKM948.2, Ring

© The Aga Khan Museum

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AKM948.2, Ring, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum

 photo.name
AKM948.2, Ring, Bottom

© The Aga Khan Museum

 photo.name
AKM948.2, Ring, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum

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On Display
Ring
  • Accession Number:AKM948.2
  • Place:Egypt
  • Dimensions:height 2.5 cm
  • Date:10th-11th century
  • Materials and Technique:gold; filigree and granulation
  • This beautiful golden ring bears an Arabic inscription on its bezel that may have served a talismanic function, protecting the wearer from ill fortune and evil influences. Its surface displays two signature techniques of Fatimid craftsmen: filigree (which involved fashioning elaborate patterns in gold wire) and granulation (wherein tiny grains or balls of gold are applied to a surface, either to fill in a design or to create a pattern). The Fatimids (909–1171) centralized their power in Cairo, and their territory stretched across North Africa and as far east as the Levant and Hijaz. The Fatimids derived their name from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and the opulence of their tastes is clearly expressed in rings such as this.

Further Reading

 

Scholar Marian Wenzel identified two types of Fatimid rings, what she called “stirrup rings” (see AKM595 and AKM597) and those with a rectangular bezel, such as the present example.[1] A small number of comparable rectangular rings do exist, including those in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Khalili Collection.[2] These examples, too, display rich ornamentation across their entire surfaces and do not include gem settings.

 

The Fatimids obtained gold from a number of sources, including nearby mines in Nubia (modern-day Sudan) as well as from the Kingdom of Ghana. They also melted down and repurposed metal from older jewellery, a probable fate for many Fatimid pieces which no longer exist today. The infamous looting of the treasury of Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir (1036–94) around 1070 resulted in an irreplaceable loss of many riches from this period.

 

Fortunately, the trove of medieval documents known as the Cairo Geniza provides a great deal of important information about jewellery production during the Fatimid period. These manuscript fragments found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat or Old Cairo, Egypt, indicate prices, terminology, and production details about the goldsmithing and jewellery industry, much of which was staffed by Jewish craftsmen. Twelfth-century trousseau lists from the Cairo Geniza refer to filigree as mushhabbak (latticework). [3] While filigree remained an important element of Fatimid jewellery throughout its history, the use of granulation eventually fell to the wayside, something that scholar Marc Rosenberg referred to as “the battle of granulation and filigree” in which the latter eventually prevailed. [4]

 

— Courtney Stewart


Notes
[1] Khalili Collection JLY 267 and JLY 1861; Metropolitan Museum of Art 1971, 165.
[2] Marian Wenzel, Ornament and Amulet: Rings of the Islamic Lands (New York: Nour Foundation in association with Azimuth Editions and Oxford University Press, 1993), 42­–3.
[3] Marian Jenkins-Madina, The Glory of Byzantium (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997), 419–20, quoting Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, vol. 4, 211 –12.
[4] Marilyn Jenkins, “Fatimid Jewelry, Its Subtypes and Influences,” Ars Orientalis, vol. 18 (1988), 40, quoting Marc Rosenberg, “Abteilung: Granulation,” Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf Technischer Grundlage, vol. 3 (Frankfurt, 1918), 96–103.


References
Barrucand, Marianne. L'egypte Fatimide: Son Art Et Son Histoire : Actes Du Colloque Organisé À Paris Les 28, 29 Et 30 Mai 1998. Paris: Presses de l'université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1998, 197–217. ISBN: 9782840501626
Bloom, Jonathan M. Arts of the City Victorious. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780300135428
Content, Derek J. Islamic Rings and Gems: The Benjamin Zucker Collection. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 1987. ISBN: 9780856673337
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, eds. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. ISBN 9781588394347
Goitein, Shelomoh D. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780520221581
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, and Manuel Keene. Islamic Jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. ISBN: 9780870993268
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Fatimid Jewelry, Its Subtypes and Influences." Ars Orientalis, vol. 18 (1988), 40, 45, ill. figs. 51, 5b.
O'Kane, Bernard. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2006. ISBN: 9789774248603
Rosenberg, Marc. “Abteilung: Granulation.” Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf Technischer Grundlage, vol. 3. Frankfurt: 1918, 96–103.
Spink, Michael and Jack Ogden. The Art of Adornment; Jewellery of the Islamic Lands. Part I and Part II. London: Nour Foundation, 2013.  ISBN: 9781874780861
Trésors Fatimides du Caire Exposition Présentée à l'Institut du Monde Arabe du 28 Avril au 30 Aout 1998. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1998. ISBN: 9782843060113
Wenzel, Marian. Ornament and Amulet: Rings of the Islamic Lands. New York: Nour Foundation in association with Azimuth Editions and Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN: 9780197276143

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