Three-legged stand - Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Development Network
The Aga Khan Museum: Metalwork - 13th century CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Object name
Three-Legged Stand


13th century CE

Height 18.3 cm; Ø 26 cm

Accession number


This tripod stand is absolutely exceptional for the quality of its decoration and its outstanding state of preservation. An inscription of inlaid silver runs in a band around its circumference, which is extended by horizontal projections. Three of these take the shape of bird heads (in facing pairs) that hide the stand’s projecting feet. These alternate with handle-like protruberances - perhaps representing pairs of wings - and small bud-like projections. The three legs are bent at the lower end, finishing in stylised animal feet. Standing out on each projecting leg and on the upper part of the feet are lion protomes in the round, separated by a vase motif with symmetrical arrangements of knotted floral stems. On the upper surface of each foot is an inlaid silver inscription, “bi-l-yumn wa al-baraka” (with prosperity and benediction); above this, on the outside of the upright, is part of the following inscription, in cursive naskhi script: “baraka li-sahibihi Abu Bakr ibn Khidr al-tajir al-tabrizi” (benediction to the owner Abu Bakr ibn Khidr merchant of Tabriz). The circular rim of the stand displays a fine horizontal inscription in kufic characters, presenting a long sequence of wishes in a standard formula for contemporary pieces from Khorasan: “bi-l-yumn wa al-baraka wa al-dawla wa al-surur wa al-tamma wa al-sa‘ada wa al-salama wa al-shukra wa al-shakira wa al-kirama wa al-dawama wa al-‘afiya wa al-shifa’a wa al-kifaya wa al-‘inaya wa al-qina’a wa al-nasira wa al-raha wa al-rahma wa al-nusra wa al-qadira wa al-qudra wa al-‘ala wa al-shifa’a wa al-dawama wa al-baqa’ li-sahibihi” (with good fortune, blessing, good fortune, joy, fulfilment, happiness, health, gratitude, that which inspires gratitude, divine generosity, long duration, health, the Prophet’s intercession, abundance, grace, contentment, that which gives victory, pleasure, mercy, assistance / victory, that which is possible, power, greatness, the Prophet’s intercession, longevity and duration to its owner). This type of object is rare; however, the David Collection in Copenhagen holds a tripod stand of similar design, though simpler in style and without inlays. The projecting decoration of facing bird heads was a very fashionable decorative motif in eastern Iran at the time and can be seen on many pieces: for example on two polycandelons, in the David Collection in Copenhagen and the Walters Arts Gallery in Baltimore, and a lamp-holder and incense burner in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels. Another distinctive characteristic of the Khorasanian workshops of the late-twelfth/early-thirteenth centuries is the motif composed of six small circles and a lotus bud, inlaid with copper and silver, and visible on the three wing-shaped projections. It also appears, for example, on a candlestick, a lamp on a stand and a bowl in the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as on a vase in Musée Jacquemart-André. Numerous features - inscription, decorative details, elements in the round - assign this stand to the production of the Khorasan workshops of the pre-Mongol period. The reference to the stand’s owner as a merchant of Tabriz does not contradict this attribution, but provides interesting evidence of the dissemination of Khorasan metalwork products, which enjoyed a high reputation and were widely exported beyond their region of production, even before the artisans themselves moved westwards, around 1220 CE, fleeing the Mongol invasions. It also documents the merchants who commissioned such works - who are very rarely mentioned in written sources.

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