This round-bottomed brass bowl with bulging sides was raised from a single sheet of brass and was finished by turning and polishing. Its engraved designs have been thickly inlaid with silver. Used for washing, it would have been proffered at arms’ length by a servant while another servant poured scented water from a similarly decorated jug or ewer over the hands of the bowl’s owner or guest. From that distance, the detail of the decoration as well as the Arabic inscription running around the exterior of the bowl could be appreciated. The fish within the bowl would have appeared to wriggle and swim as the water splashed over them.
The wide band of Arabic inscription just below the exterior rim is punctuated by three large roundels containing flying birds whose tail feathers issue from interlaced stems. The inscription reveals that the owner of the bowl was an amir (officer) in the service of the Mamluk Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir. It reads:
Several Mamluk sultans held the title al-Nasir, but the shape of the bowl and style of its decoration suggest that the inscription refers to al-Nasir Muhammad, the longest reigning Mamluk sultan, who reigned three times (1293–94, 1299–1309, 1310–41). He first came to the throne as a boy and was manipulated by the powerful amirs of his father Sultan Qalawun. It was not until his third reign (1310–41) that he was able to exercise real authority, and most of the metalwork bearing his name or title belong to this period. One of his many achievements was to negotiate peace with the Ilkhanids, the Mongol dynasty with whom the Mamluks had been at war since they took power from the Ayyubid dynasty in 1250. This bowl probably belongs to the early part of his third reign, before the wave of Mongol influence that dominated artistic production in the late 1320s and 1330s. 
The boldly written titular inscription is typical of the Mamluk period when position at court was a greater indication of status than birth or wealth. The titles do not contain military attributes, nor is there a blazon of the type held by the military amirs at court, which suggests that the bowl was owned by an official in the Secretariat rather than the Army.
— Rachel Ward
 For a discussion of the metalwork made for this sultan, see Rachel Ward, ‘Brass, Gold and Silver: Metal Vessels Made for Sultan Al-Nāsir Muḥammad, Royal Asiatic Society Journal, Series 3, vol. 14, part 1, April 2004, pp. 59–73
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