Beginning in the twelfth century, the art of decorative inlaid metalwork flourished in the Near East under Islamic patronage at centers such as Mosul in Iraq and Damascus in Syria. This art reached an unusual level of sophistication in Egypt under Mamluk patronage (1250–1517), centered at Cairo, Egypt’s capital.
The Cincinnati candlestick is a splendid example of this tradition. Like most Mamluk metalwork, the piece is made of brass, which had supplanted bronze as the primary medium. Originally it was inlaid with silver, traces of which survive. In typical fashion, a wide band of thuluth, the monumental cursive favored by the Mamluks, forms the primary decoration on both the base and the shoulder, revealing the Mamluk artist’s predilection for monumental calligraphic design. The inscription, which contains traditional expressions of honor—“the Wise,” “the Efficient,” “the Lord,” “His High Excellency”—is dedicated to a chief officer of “al-Malik al-Nasr,” an honorary title adopted by several Mamluk rulers. Stylistic features suggest that the dedicant was Sultan Hasan (reigned 1347–51 and 1354–61), a renowned patron of the arts who commissioned a number of metal and glass objects.