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4 / Ceremony and Society

Basin (known as the Baptistère of Saint Louis)
Basin (known as the Baptistère of Saint Louis)
Artist / Origin Mohammed ibn al-Zain (Egyptian or Syrian)
Region: West Asia
Date Mamluk Period, ca. 1320–1340
Material Brass inlaid with silver and gold
Dimensions H: 8 ¾ in. (22.2 cm.), Diam.: 19 ¾ in. (50.2 cm.)
Location Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Credit Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Nasser RabbatAga Khan Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Additional Resources

Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. “The Baptistère de Saint Louis: A Reinterpretation.” Islamic Art III (1988–1989): 3–14.

Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan M. Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250–1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art & Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.

Musée du Louvre Web site. http://www.louvre.fr.

Ward, Rachel. “The ‘Baptistère de Saint Louis’- A Mamluk Basin Made for Export to Europe.” Islam and the Italian Renaissance, Warburg Institute Colloquia, 5 (1999): 113–132.

Basin (known as the Baptistère of Saint Louis)

» Mohammed ibn al-Zain (Egyptian or Syrian)

The Mamluks, the majority of whom were ethnic Turks, were a group of warrior slaves who took control of several Muslim states and established a dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 until the Ottoman conquest in 1517.

The political and military dominance of the Mamluks was accompanied by a flourishing artistic culture renowned across the medieval world for its glass, textiles, and metalwork.

Master metal craftsman Mohammed ibn al-Zain created this brass basin during the Bahri Mamluk reign (1250–1382). Inlaid with silver and gold, the basin’s wide central, outer band depicts a finely crafted procession of Mamluk emirs, or officials, among them a mace-bearer (jumaqdâr), ax-bearer (tabardân), and bow-bearer (bunduqdâr). Four horsemen in roundels punctuating the procession of dignitaries may be personifications of different aspects of furusiyya, or “horsemanship.” Friezes of animals and coats-of-arms frame this exterior band and decorate the basin’s interior as well.

The basin is an example of an object produced for one ceremonial context but later appropriated for another. It was probably commissioned by a wealthy Mamluk patron to serve as a banqueting piece or, alternately, as a vessel for ceremonial hand washing. Ultimately, however, it ended up in France, where it was used from at least the seventeenth century in the baptisms of children born to the French royal family. The various coats-of-arms on the basin were later worked over with fleur-de-lis, a motif that might have appealed to both the basin’s original Islamic and later European owners. The flower was a popular Mamluk emblem in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as well as a heraldic device of the French royal family.

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