Pyxis of Zamora

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Pyxis of Zamora (made in 964 CE /353 aH) is an ivory carving casket (17.7–11 centimetres (7.0–4.3 in)) (pyx) that dates from the Caliphate of Córdoba. It is currently housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid.

Background and Context[edit]

This cylindrical carved box was commissioned by the Umayyad caliph Al-Hakam II in 964 CE for Subh, his concubine, and the mother of the princes Abd al-Rahman and Hishâm and is linked to the palatine ivory workshops of Madinat al-Zahra.[1] It was intended to hold cosmetics, jewelry, or perfume containers. This portable piece represents the sophistication of the ruling class during the Caliphate of Cordoba. During this period, the Umayyads in Spain, or the al-Andalus, were both competing with the Abbasid society in Baghdad,[2] and attempting to reclaim the power that they held from Damascus during the Umayyad period.[3] In Cordoba, the Umayyads commissioned notable architectural developments and luxury goods, including textiles and ivory carvings, such as this pyxis, the Pyxis of Zamora. The iconography found within the carvings on the surfaces of many of the pyxides created during this period reinforced the ideas of the Umayyad political superiority over the Abbasids.[4] This object, created in the flourishing intellectual city center of Cordoba during the peak of Hispano-Umayyad art demonstrates the refinement of the Cordoba Caliphate.[5]

Methods and Techniques[edit]

Ivory carving was a widespread practice in the Mediterranean world, beginning before the time of the Roman empire.[6] Ivory was expensive due to the distance between sub-sahara Africa and India, where elephant tusk was procured, and the Mediterranean,[7] where it was carved. The Umayyad Caliphate brought the pyxis carving tradition to Spain as they took control of the peninsula in the 8th century AD.[8] There is no evidence of Ivory box or pixides carvings in Spain before Umayyad rule.[9]

Elephant Ivory

The quality of the craft of pixides was vital due to the expense of ivory. Among Islamic, Christian, and Roman carvings, a sign of good workmanship was a lack of tool marks.[10] The carving of small objects such as pixides took precision and time which also added to the overall price.[11] The Pyxis of Zamora displays this quality of work through the deep-relief interlacing pattern and the lack of any visible tool marks. These carving techniques are seen in other pixides created in the same period, such as the Pyxis of al-Mughira. The price and rarity of pixides made them accessible only to the royal class.[12]

Cylindrical pixides, such as the Pyxis of Zamora, were created using the natural curvature and hollowness of the thickest part of the elephant tusk.[13] Cylindrical pixides were less prone to warping than rectangular boxes because of the preserved strength of the tusk in a circular shape.[14]The unbroken surface of the Pyxis of Zamora allowed for unified compositional decoration without edges in the ivory.[15] The interlacing effect of the decoration, in conjunction with the Arabic inscription on the lid (detailing the patronage and gifting of the pyxis),[16] indicated that the receiver of the pyxis was meant to turn the object around in their hands to fully appreciate the craftsmanship. The decoration of the Pyxis of Zamora also encouraged the viewer to open[17] the container since the expensive exterior mirrored the precious material held inside (often perfume or jewels).[18]

Symbolism and Interpretations[edit]

The Winged Motif[edit]

The Pyxis of Zamora features many depictions of spread wings within its arabesque decoration. The winged motif gained popularity during its use in Sasanian culture. Extended wings symbolized power and religion, as the motif was often seen on the crowns of Sasanian kings as well as on Sasanian seals.[19] This Sasanian trend later influenced the royal decorative arts of the Umayyad period, resulting in the repeated use of the winged motif on luxury goods.[20]

The Peacock[edit]

Peacock

The image of the peacock is repeated four times in the central section of the Pyxis of Zamora. In the context of medieval Islam, peacocks were viewed as having apotropaic powers. This view was the result of varying Islamic beliefs of the bird. Some Islamic interpreters believed the peacock mated asexually, thus associating the bird with purity. There were other interpretations from Arabic naturalists, who believed peacocks could detect poison. This led to the common medicinal use of peacock feathers. Popular legends told of the bird’s ability to kill snakes, religiously alluding to the peacock’s ability to avert the evil influences of the devil. This gave the bird a connection to the Islamic conception of Paradise. The peacock continued to be an important image in the Islamic world, as feathers or images of peacocks were often used in a royal context in imitation of Persian traditions.[21]

The Gazelle[edit]

Several images of the gazelle surround the peacocks depicted on the Pyxis of Zamora. This history of the meaning of the gazelle began in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, in which the gazelle was often depicted as having magical qualities. The slender bodies and wide eyes of gazelles alluded them to women.[22] Later Umayyads continued to associate gazelles with femininity and elegance. They were viewed as seductive and swift prey and were often celebrated by hunters.[23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Discover Islamic Art (Museum with no Frontiers)". 2014-05-30.
  2. ^ "Qantara - Pyxis of Zamora". www.qantara-med.org. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  3. ^ "The Art of the Umayyad Period in Spain (711–1031)". www.metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  4. ^ "Pyxis of al-Mughira". Khan Academy. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  5. ^ "The Art of the Umayyad Period in Spain (711–1031)". www.metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  6. ^ Ritchie, Carson I. A. (1975). Bone and Horn Carving: a Pictorial History. A.S. Barnes.
  7. ^ Williamson, Paul (1982). Medieval Ivory Carvings. Stemmer House Publishers Inc. p. 5–6.
  8. ^ "The Art of the Umayyad Period in Spain (711–1031)". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The MET.
  9. ^ "Pyxis of al-Mughira". Khan Academy.
  10. ^ Cutler, Anthony (1994). The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th Centuries). Princeton University Press. p. 91–94.
  11. ^ Cutler, Anthony (1994). The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory, and Society in Byzantium (9th-11th Centuries). Princeton University Press. p. 91–94.
  12. ^ "Pyxis of al-Mughira". Khan Academy.
  13. ^ Cutler, Anthony; Knipp, David (2011). “How and For Whom The Made the Boxes.” Siculo-Arabic Ivories and Islamic Painting 1100-1300: Proceedings of the International Conference, Berlin, 6-8 July 2007. Hirmer.
  14. ^ Cutler, Anthony; Knipp, David (2011). “How and For Whom The Made the Boxes.” Siculo-Arabic Ivories and Islamic Painting 1100-1300: Proceedings of the International Conference, Berlin, 6-8 July 2007. Hirmer.
  15. ^ Cutler, Anthony; Knipp, David (2011). “How and For Whom The Made the Boxes.” Siculo-Arabic Ivories and Islamic Painting 1100-1300: Proceedings of the International Conference, Berlin, 6-8 July 2007. Hirmer.
  16. ^ "Bote de Zamora". Museo Arqueológico Nacional.
  17. ^ Shalem, Avinoam; Knipp, David (2011). “Hidden Aesthetics and the Art of Deception: The Object, the Beholder, and the Artisan.” Siculo-Arabic Ivories and Islamic Painting 1100-1300: Proceedings of the International Conference, Berlin, 6-8 July 2007. Hirmer.
  18. ^ "Pyxis of al-Mughira". Khan Academy.
  19. ^ Compareti, Matteo (2010). "The Spread Wings Motif on Armenian Steles: Its Meaning and Parallels in Sasanian Art". Iran & the Caucasus. 14 (2): 201–232.
  20. ^ "The Art of the Umayyad Period in Spain (711–1031)". www.metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  21. ^ Green, Nile (2003–2006). "Ostrich Eggs and Peacock Feathers: Sacred Objects as Cultural Exchange between Christianity and Islam". Al-Masāq. 18 (1): 27–78. doi:10.1080/09503110500222328. ISSN 0950-3110.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  22. ^ Bürgel, J. C. (1989). "The Lady Gazelle and Her Murderous Glances". Journal of Arabic Literature. 20 (1): 1–11.
  23. ^ Behrens-Abouseif, Doris (1997). "The Lion-Gazelle Mosaic at Khirbat al-Mafjar". Muqarnas. 14: 11–18. doi:10.2307/1523233.