Journal of Islamic Archaeology, Vol 2, No 2 (2015)

Fatimid ivories in Ifriqiya: the Madrid and Mantua Caskets between Construction and Decoration

Silvia Armando
Issued Date: 15 Mar 2016

Abstract


Debates on Fatimid ivory production have traditionally focused on Egypt: many of the artefacts considered as Fatimid have been ascribed to 11-12th century Cairo, while attributions of provenance often oscillate between Egypt and Southern Italy. This paper aims to question and to broaden this geographical and chronological frame, focusing on two ivory caskets which have been often excluded by these narratives. One casket, preserved in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid, features an inscription pointing to al-Mansuriyya (current Tunisia) as a place of production and a date to the reign of the caliph al-Mu‘izz li-Dīn Allah (952-975 CE). A second box is preserved in the Museo Diocesano Francesco Gonzaga in Mantua, and its attribution has often been debated by scholars. Previous and recent scholarship on the two caskets are surveyed, while a detailed analysis of their technology of manufacture and decoration brings to light strong similarities, suggesting that they were produced in the same place. Comparisons with a wide range of ivory boxes from and beyond the medieval Mediterranean reveal technical variety, help us to identify interesting parallels, and define the uniqueness of the Madrid and the Mantua caskets, which thus emerge as key-artefacts in the panorama of Fatimid Ifriqiyan artistic production.

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DOI: 10.1558/jia.v2i2.30167

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