Court and Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq

The Courtauld Gallery

20 February – 18 May 2014

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Revealing the story behind a handbag made in Northern Iraq around 1300, believed to be one of the finest pieces of Islamic metalwork in existence.

Some 40 loans from across the world are used to examine the origins, craft and function of this rare masterpiece, of which no other object of its kind survives.

The metalwork on the brass bag depicts a scene of a high-status couple, surrounded by their courtiers, musicians, hunters and revellers, and is framed by a rhyming inscription bestowing good wishes, which was composed specifically for the piece.

Acquired by the Victorian collector Thomas Gambier Parry in 1858 and bequeathed to The Courtauld by his grandson in 1966, it was originally thought to be a wallet or document carrier, or even a saddlebag.

Drawing on a wealth of research as well as other objects and metalwork from the period, this exhibition asserts that the piece is in fact a handbag or, more properly, a shoulder bag, made in Mosul in the 14th century.

Its owner is likely to have been a high-ranking woman at the court of the Il-Khanids, the dynasty established in the region by the grandson of Chinggis Khan, known in the west as Genghis Khan.

Illustrations of the court, pasted into an album in the late 18th century by a German bibliophile, Heinrich Friedrich von Diez, show such shoulder bags being worn by the page of the Khatun, the wife of the ruling Khan and three folios of these pictures are on display.

Don't miss

A life-size display recreate the lavish court scene that decorates the bag, featuring objects similar to those depicted: crescent-shaped gold earrings as worn by the lady, a Chinese mirror similar to the one held by the page and a Syrian glass bottle as depicted on the table.

Venue information

Opening times

The Courtauld Gallery is currently closed for a 2 year redevelopment project from September 2018.

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