The tray stand was crafted in the 14th Century from brass and inlaid with silver, traces of which are still visible. The stand is of biconical, waisted cylindrical form, with a flared rim and base, and raised central ridge. The piece is richly decorated with scrolling vines, and roundels containing floral motifs, in the lower section, and stylised ducks, in the upper. The body is covered with ‘Thuluth’ inscriptions, which glorify the patron, describing him as, ‘The High authority, the Lordly, the Possessor’, and ‘the Learned’. On the underside of the rim, there is an engraved heraldic medallion.
The stand would have originally held a large rounded, and no doubt beautifully-ornamented, metal tray, on which fruit and other food was displayed.
This piece likely belonged to an Amir (prince) or other high-status member of the Mamluk court. The Mamluks were Muslim rulers, who originated as slave soldiers. Under the Abbasid Caliphate, Mamluk generals were able to establish a dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250-1517. Their capital city, Cairo, boasted magnificent buildings, prompting it to be described as ‘the centre of the universe and the garden of the world’, by the historian Ibn Khaldun in 1382. The Mamluks in Egypt were not only great patrons of architecture, but also of the arts, commissioning lavish pieces, like this fine silver-inlaid stand.
The form and decoration of Mamluk tray stands were so well-known, that Chinese craftsmen began to make porcelain imitations of them for the Middle Eastern market (see British Museum, London inv. no. 1966, 1215.1). Further examples are found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
This stand is one of only a few dozen that have survived from this period, making it a highly collectable piece. It is an exceptionally beautiful and incredibly rare relic from a bygone time when the Mamluk dynasty ruled Egypt.