skip to content
Mamluk Casket

This casket, probably made in around 1366-68 for a Mamluk nobleman, is an intriguing example of metalwork from the Mamluk period in Egypt (1250-1517). Much surviving Mamluk metalwork consists of bowls, dishes, candlesticks, penboxes, and arms and armour made for display or active usage. By contrast, the Fitzwilliam Museum’s casket is of a unique shape and design, and was probably made to be displayed and viewed from one side only. 

Mamluk metalworkers excelled at inlaying brass and bronze wares with complex designs of silver and gold. Many of the technique, styles, and motifs used were inherited from a thriving tradition originating in 12th-century Iran, which reached a peak of creativity and accomplishment in northern Iraq during the early 13th century. Over the course of the 13th century, these sophisticated metalworking techniques are seen further west in Syria and Egypt – taken there by craftsmen who migrated in search of commissions in the minor courts of Syria or to escape the economic and social upheaval which was a result of the Mongol invasions of Iran and Iraq in the 1220s and 1250s. In the Mamluk period, this tradition was continued and developed in Damascus and Cairo. However, from around 1400, a decline in metalwork quality followed a period of economic and political turmoil, which was compounded by the effects of the Black Death which killed a large part of Egypt’s urban population at the same time that the disease was ravaging Europe.