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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the magnificent new Islamic art galleries at the Louvre in Paris and we're looking at one of their treasures it's an object that was used to baptize the children of the royal family of France for centuries but it wasn't originally a French object no it actually comes from the area of Egypt in Syria and it dates to between 1320 and 1340 it was created by mom look artisans now the Mamluks had been slave warriors and they had asserted their independence and had been able to rule in the countries that are today Egypt in Syria for several hundred years and during that period they became known as extraordinary craftsmen they were known especially for their textile work and for their metalwork and this is a premier example normally vessels like this would have large bands of calligraphy but this one doesn't this one is filled with figures and animals and decorative patterning the only part that is not completely covered are the bottom few inches of the walls of the inside of the basin even the floor of the basin is completely covered let's start there there is a very abstract pattern there of sea animals these very complex interconnected designs similar to tyre work the basin is brass it's got areas of silver and gold and black paste and icy eels in silver at the bottom and then above that we see first a continuous band of animals that parade around the inner wall and then a wide frieze of men on horseback interspersed by animals as well as medallions figures that are clearly rulers as well as coats of arms there are two rulers they sit frontally they both hold goblets and the figures in between seem to be hunting but also scenes of battle we see limbs and we see a decapitated head so there's violence here but the largest frieze is on the exterior there we see four figures in roundels each on horseback slightly different two of them are hunting another one is drawing his bow and then the last seems to be processing perhaps holding a club and there are figures on either side of the roundel sometimes four sometimes five all in procession toward the royal figures and these figures are doing all kinds of interesting things I'm looking at one for example that seems to be holding a leopard by a leash and another seems to raise a goblin in one hand perhaps in celebration and holding a vessel than the other the figures are so dense that it actually takes time to be able to untangle the complex interwove and forms on the very bottom band there are small roundels that carry fleur-de-lis now if the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the royal family of France but interestingly it was also associated with a mamluk sultan our historians think these may have been reworked when they came to France there were other alterations that make us think that the person who commissioned this was not the person who was ultimately delivered - and as we mentioned before generally we would expect to see Islamic inscriptions that would have been very common but they're absent here so there's some speculation that this may have been made for somebody who was not into Muslim perhaps it was even made for export the iconography is very complicated and art historians have not untangled it yet well look how rich the imagery is just under the rim I can see a unicorn an elephant I can see a leopard a camel an antelope and all processing all running all jumping there's such movement and energy not only in the decorative forms which move in and out but also in the figures there is a little bit of Arabic inscription the signature of the artist and we can see that just under the rim actually he signed it six times so maybe he was especially proud of it his name was even on Seine and actually the Louvre has another work by this great Mamluk artist you [Music]
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