Literary Reading: Fatimid Objects – Exquisite Gold Earrings, Pendants and Bracelets

Royal Women: Granddaughters of Fatima al-Zahra

In reverence to their descent from Fatima al-Zahra’, the daughter of the Prophet and wife of Imam ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, the Fatimids accorded the royal princesses a life of luxury and responsibility, entrusting them important roles in public and political life. This attitude affected generally the treatment of women in contemporary society. Many women of the court held important political posts, and the sister of Caliph al-Hakim bi Amrillah, Sitt al-Mulk, even governed Egypt for four years in place of her infant brother. Many Fatimid women of rank managed their own wealth and were active in commercial business, owning ships that transported goods far and wide.

Cairo knew the art of jewellery making and many pieces were produced there over the ages. Jewellers decorated their work with attractive patterns. Production centres in Egypt became active in the time of the Fatimids who loved acquiring gold and jewels as a mark of luxury and wealth. The jewellery shown on this page would have been worn by women of the Fatimid elite.

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Woven Gold Earrings

This small but meticulously executed pair of gold earrings is a prime example of dexterity in the technique of filigree. Birds were a favoured ornamental motif and the filigree technique maintained the lightness of the subject without compromising their opulence.

This small but meticulously executed pair of gold earrings is a prime example of dexterity in the technique of filigree. Birds were a favoured ornamental motif and the filigree technique maintained the lightness of the subject without compromising their opulence.

Name of Object :
Pair of earrings

Holding Museum:
National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, Syria

Museum Inventory Number:
ع 3052

Dimensions:
Length (at longest point) 3.5 cm, depth (at deepest point) 1.21 cm

Material(s)/Technique(s):
Woven gold.

Date of the object:
Around hegira 5th–6th century / AD 11th–12th century

Period/Dynasty
Fatimid

Provenance:
Possibly Raqqa.

Description:
The Fatimid period is distinguished by the development of precisely executed objects with high levels of decorative concentration. This is evident in wood, metal, and gold objects from the period.

This pair of earrings is made from a gold web that is hollow from the inside. Each individual earring is in the form of a bird carrying in its beak a small gold ball. The loop provided for hanging the earring from the ear of the wearer connects the head of the bird with the rear of its body, making the arch of the bird’s back straddle the earlobe.

The earrings were made from gold wire carefully soldered together and accentuated with a few gold granules. The granule technique creates a light and hollow whole that is both aesthetically and practically pleasing. This technique was also used to create spherical or bi-conical beads that were then strung together into necklaces and other kinds of jewellery.

How object was obtained:
Purchased in 1940.

How object was dated:
The production of this type of hollow, woven gold object was well known in the Fatimid period, specifically in the first half of the 5th / 11th century.

How provenance was established:
Although purchased in Raqqa, the method of production described above was associated with multiple sites in Egypt and Syria, such as Cairo and Aleppo. It is difficult to determine, therefore, a definitive provenance.

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Gold Pendant Embellished with Enamel

A brooch found at Fustat. Its enamelled inscription reads 'God is the best protector'. Women used all kinds and shapes of jewellery, such as bracelets, rings, earrings, brooches and pendants. Techniques in ornamentation included engraving, incising, piercing and enamel inlay. This piece is good example of decorative enamel inlay.

A brooch found at Fustat. Its enamelled inscription reads 'God is the best protector'. Women used all kinds and shapes of jewellery, such as bracelets, rings, earrings, brooches and pendants. Techniques in ornamentation included engraving, incising, piercing and enamel inlay. This piece is good example of decorative enamel inlay.

Name of Object :
Pendant

Holding Museum:
Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, Egypt

Museum Inventory Number:
4337

Dimensions:
Diameter 2.5 cm

Material(s)/Technique(s):
Gold embellished with enamel.

Date of the object:
Hegira 5th century / AD 11th century

Period/Dynasty
Fatimid

Provenance:
Possibly Fustat, Egypt.

Description:
Archaeological excavations in the Egyptian City of Fustat have furnished us with some pieces of jewellery such as bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants of gold and silver. A number of techniques in jewellery-making and ornamentation were widespread in Egypt during the Fatimid period. Some of the most important techniques were carving, piercing and enamel inlay. The piece illustrated here is a good example of decorative enamel inlay.

Generally, decorative enamelling was done in one of two ways: one way – called lobed enamel – involves pouring the enamel into small metallic lobes, closely resembling moulds. After firing the lobes in a kiln, they are then mounted in specific places in accordance with the design on to the gold surface of the piece of jewellery. The other way involves making deep-grooved decorative carvings of the desired design on the surface of the piece; enamel is then poured into the grooves and the piece is then fired in a kiln. The former method is a quicker and faster way than the latter. The piece illustrated here is an exquisite example of lobed enamel jewellery – the first method of decoration with enamel.

This is a circular pendant whose form assumes a concave surface. Its decorative layout is arranged along three horizontal sections. The central section, which is the broadest, is filled with an inscription in kufic script set in white, decorated in red, and placed against a background of ash-green. The text reads: “… God is best to take care [of him]” and is part of verse (ayah) 64 of the Chapter of Joseph (Yusuf; no. 12). The sections above and below the inscription are decorated with a vegetal branch, each of which is depicted in red, and set against a green background.

How object was obtained:
The object was discovered during the course of archaeological excavations that took place in Fustat in 1916.

How object was dated:
The pendant is dated by means of studying the kufic script used in the decoration. Dating was also greatly assisted by a comparative study of the pendant’s craftsmanship that, together with some objects made of stucco, have been uncovered in archaeological excavations in the Egyptian City of Fustat, and which are attributed to the same period.

How provenance was established:
A study of the pendant’s craftsmanship with reference to stucco objects also uncovered in archaeological excavations in Fustat suggests that the pendant may have been produced there.

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Woven Gold Brooch

Fatimid jewellers used both sophisticated techniques and an array of precious stones to stunning effect.

Fatimid jewellers used both sophisticated techniques and an array of precious stones to stunning effect.


Name of Object :
Brooch

Holding Museum:
National Museum of Damascus

Damascus, Syria

Museum Inventory Number:
ع 5881

Dimensions:
Length 7 cm

Material(s)/Technique(s):
Woven gold.

Date of the object:
Around hegira 5th–6th century / AD 11th–12th century

Period/Dynasty:
Fatimid

Provenance:
Possibly Raqqa, Syria.

Description:
A gold brooch that was designed to hang from the chest by means of a pin attached to the wearer’s clothing. It takes the shape of an upside-down heart and was produced from a web of moulded gold. On its frame are tiny rings, from which hang chains that terminate in different forms: a ball, a bird, a crescent-moon and a knot, all fashioned from woven gold filaments.

Throughout the ages, the women of Syria held as important gold and silver jewellery for decoration and self-beautification, as well as a source for financial security. Finds from numerous archaeological sites have included bracelets, armlets, anklets, brooches, earrings, and rings.

How object was obtained:
Purchased in 1949 in Raqqa.

How object was dated:
This style and quality of ornamentation is typical of the Fatimid period (358–567 / 969–1171) during which time the production of highly refined gold jewellery flourished in Egypt and Syria. Techniques included filigree, granulation, twisted ropes of gold, and occasionally inlay work with gems. Production included bracelets, armlets, earrings, pendants, rings, belts, brooches, and hair ornaments.

How provenance was established:
During the Fatimid period, the gold-production centres of Syria and Egypt flourished, particularly in Aleppo and Cairo. It is not possible, therefore, to determine a definitive provenance for this object.

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Gold Bracelets Decorated with Filigree and Superimposed Coils

Gold bracelets decorated with embossing and fine filigree work.

Gold bracelets decorated with embossing and fine filigree work.

Name of Object :
Two gold bracelets

Holding Museum:
Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, Egypt

Museum Inventory Number:
1/ 16326؛ 2 / 16326

Dimensions:
Diameter 6.7 cm

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Gold decorated with filigree and superimposed coils.

Date of the object:
Hegira 5th century / AH 11th century

Period / Dynasty
Fatimid

Provenance:
Egypt.

Description:
Identical bracelets made of gold, each of which is decorated with bands of ornamentation consisting of pseudo inscriptions. Both bracelets have clasps characterised by two ornamented intersecting triangular shapes. The clasps are decorated with vegetal motifs in the form of whorls, and are framed by pierced circles that cohere together.

The cities of Fustat and Alexandria were among the most important centres for the production of jewellery and precious stones in Egypt during the Fatimid period. These centres were active during the Fatimid period from the middle of the AH 4th / AD 10th century onward since the Fatimids were known to love acquiring gold and jewels to reveal the splendour of their wealth, serving to elevate their prestige as a consequence. A fact that affirms their encouragement for the production of ornamentation is that the Caliph al-Aziz bi Allah undertook the construction of the Palace of Gold, as had Caliph al-Muizz li-Din Allah before him, undertaking the creation of the Hall of Gold in the Eastern Palace. The Palace of Gold and the Hall of Gold were designated to house the different precious-metal acquisitions for which the Fatimids had such a great passion. It is worth mentioning that the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah used to wear a shield (‘asgada) made of gold and silver. Furthermore his sister, Sitt al-Mulk, presented him with a crown of gold that was studded with diamonds and other gems. The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo includes amongst its collections a set of gold rings decorated with depictions of animals, plants and epigraphic decorations, as well as brooches all worked in the filigree technique, with the addition of coils of gold thread. Likewise, the museum has also acquired earrings of different forms and two gold bracelets, adorned by inscriptions in kufic script.

How object was obtained:
Both bracelets were bought from a dealer of antiquities, Mikhail, in 1941.

How object was dated:
The bracelets are dated based on the style of filigree decoration, made famous by the Fatimids.

How provenance was established:
Egypt was earmarked as the place of production in view of the fact that production of similar types of gold jewellery was widespread throughout Egypt during the Fatimid period.

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Credits:

Above Text and Images reproduced with the kind permission of Museum with No Frontiers (MWNF). Copyright MWNF.

Please visit the state of the art MWNF Website at  http://www.museumwnf.org/ and click on Discover Islamic Art for more images, close-ups, additional research material and bibliography of the above object(s) as well as numerous objects and monuments from other periods of Islamic History.

Please read other articles in this website on Fatimid Objects/Monuments at MWNF:
Literary Reading: Fatimid Monument – Aqueduct in Kairouan, Tunisia; Patron Imam al-Mui’zz (the reading includes a summary of the goals and vision of MWNF)
Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Textile Fragment Attributed to Imam al-Aziz
Literary Reading: Fatimid Monuments – The Al-Hakim Mosque and Bab al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest)
Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Fragment of Robe Attributed to Imam al-Mustansir
Literary Reading: Fatimid Objects – Four Ivory Panels

2 thoughts on “Literary Reading: Fatimid Objects – Exquisite Gold Earrings, Pendants and Bracelets

  1. Quoting from your article: ‘Many women of the court held important political posts, and the sister of Caliph al-Hakim bi Amrillah, Sitt al-Mulk, even governed Egypt for four years in place of her infant brother. Many Fatimid women of rank managed their own wealth and were active in commercial business, owning ships that transported goods far and wide.’

    To me these are the most important historical facts that challenge the present day assumptions about women in Islam by non-Muslims who underrate our faith. I wish that would be clarified to the politicians in UK where I live under the present climate!

  2. This series of articles is great as it would make us aware of what Fatimid objects to look out for while visiting the respective museums. I have been to both these museums but I cannot remember seeing any of these. My bad luck.

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