Small cylindrical inkwell with knobbed lid, cast
and engraved with a concentric band of foliage
on the lid. On the body, three cartouches with
arabesques. Three tiny applique loops on the
sides of the body corresponding to other three
little handles attached to the sides of the lid
would have channelled the ropes through for
carrying. Similar inkwells are known signed by
craftsmen from Nishapur and Herat.
Most of the early Islamic metalwork was cast in
quarternary bronze, i.e. brass with the addition
of tin and lead. The decoration was either cast,
pierced or engraved and especially this last type
had a tendency before the 11th century to
become increasingly complicated and detailed.
Although small bronze inkwell were used by the
Romans, glass ones were preferred in early
Islamic times. Large metal inkwell emerged
during the 11th century and this particular
typology became standard in Mesopotamia and
Persia during the 12th century. Two types of ink
were used in medieval Islam, one a soluble solid
with a soot base known as midad, the other a
liquid mixture of gallnuts and vitriol called hibr.
Inkwells such as this were intended for the latter
ink, hence their name mihbara. They commonly
held a liq or piece of ink-soaked felt or wool and
were also provided with an inner horizontal rim
to prevent spilling.
For a comparable example see: Hayward Gallery,
The Arts of Islam, 1976: pl.183, p. 172
LO.1085. Inkwell (mihbara, dawat), cast bronze.
Cylindrical body with a flat base; there are three
freely-moving rings attached to the body which fit
to the three small hooks on the side of the cover.
The cover has a central domical is decorated with
series of lotus petals and is capped by a knob-
Afghanistan or Iran, 10th – 11th century.
Prof. Geza Fehervari
Prof. Godfrey King