Eight panels mounted on a board

1296 (made)

Height: 27.5 cm of largest, hexagonal, panel, Width: 27 cm of largest, hexagonal, panel, Depth: 2.2 cm of largest, hexagonal, panel

1085:1-1869 FWK

Eight wooden panels carved with two different levels of relief

A group of eight wooden panels carved in different levels of relief. The borders of all eight panels have been inlaid with narrow bands of wood. Two carved motifs are visible within the bands: a dark floral scrollwork and a lighter coloured studded strapwork. The dark floral scrollwork, forms the central carved design. Interlaced witn the floral scrollwork and carved in relief, is the lighter studded strapwork. Photography gives a clearer impression of the colouration of the scrollwork and strapwork. No two panels are the same: each has been carved with a different design. The shapes of the panels also vary. The group of panels is comprised of an eight sided star, a number of hexagonal panels and a trapezoid.

This group of panels was made in Cairo in 1296 A.D. They were commissioned by the Mamluk Sultan Lajin (d.1299 A.D) who ordered a minbar (or pulpit in a mosque) to be made for the Abbasid Mosque of Ibn Tulun (built between 876 -79A.D) in Cairo, Egypt. These panels formed the decorative surface of Sultan Lagin’s minbar. They are important because they are believed to be the finest examples of Mamluk carpentry – indeed no two panels are the same, each has been carved with a different design. The Lajin panels (as they are commonly known) are also important because they were widely collected during the latter half of the nineteenth century – Lajin panels can be found in the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This set of panels is important because it formed part of the V&A’s foundational collection of ‘Saracenic Art’ (or art of the Mamluks- a military elite who ruled Egypt and Syria between 1250- 1517 A.D).

These eight panels are amongst the finest examples of Egyptian Mamluk woodcarving (the Mamluks ruled Egypt and Syria between 1250 and 1517A.D). Such panels were used to decorate objects known as the minbar (pulpit in a mosque). Each individual panel formed part of the complex wooden inlay which covered the minbar. Mamluk carpentry techniques were highly innovative as once made, the wooden objects had to withstand the heat and humidity of the Egyptian climate. Such objects were made without any adhesive as the objects would expand and be damaged by the heat. This group of panels once formed the surface decoration of a minbar commissioned by Sultan Lajin (d. 1299 A.D). It was built in 1296 A.D and placed in the ninth century Mosque of Ibn Tulun. As a Mamluk officer Lajin used the dilapidated mosque for shelter during a period of civil unrest, as he hid from his political enemies. He vowed that if he survived, he would repay the mosque by repairing it to its former glory. These exquisite minbar panels are an example of his vow. The Lajin panels are important examples of early Mamluk woodcarving, as they attest to the skill and creativity of early Mamluk carpentry. According to Stanley Lane-Poole (1854 – 1931 A.D.) in his book The Art of the Saracens in Egypt, the Lajin minbar panels were exceptional examples of carving skill and creativity; the panels represent the peak of Mamluk minbar design. The panels are also excellent examples of Mamluk wood carving: ivory would later eclipse wood as the chief material used in minbar inlay, as wood panel production declined during the fifteenth century. By 1885 the Lajin minbar had been stripped of its panels, as the objects became highly collectible commodities. This set of Lajin panels was originally part of a collection owned by Dr Meymar, a Turkish bureaucrat who lived in Egypt. He organised part of Egypt’s display within the 1867 Paris Exposition, where these objects were placed on display. In 1869 the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A) purchased these objects from Dr Meymar. Together with the collection of Gaston de Saint-Maurice (accessioned in 1884), the Meymar collection was the foundational collection of ‘Saracenic’ art – or the art of the Mamluks (ruled Egypt and Syria 1250-1517) – in this museum.

Location: In Storage

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