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Pyxis of Al-Mughira

This is part of the Islamic art. A pyxis is a cylindrical box used for cosmetics, this particular one is made out of a very expensive material - ivory. It was so expensive because it was difficult to get - it came all the way from Africa and because it was very easy to carve and durable. This box would have perfume in it so that it would make the room smell very nice when it is opened. It was a gift for an 18 year old caliph's son Mughira in Islamic Spain. Muslims controlled much of Spain from 711 to 1492.

The pyxis is surrounded by 4 medallions which have a lot of animals on them and a princely iconography. Medallion one shows two men collecting eggs from falcon's nests show the legitimacy of the Umayyad rulers. In the poetry of the time the Umayyad rulers were often called "falcons". To make things more interesting, both men are being bitten by dogs, which could symbolize a threat to Umayyad power. Medallion two -  On the top you can see men riding horse and picking dates. A lot of Umayyad poetry talks sorrowfully about the lost lands. Date trees were common in North Africa and the Middle East, lands which were lost to the Abbasid caliphs. Medallion three  -  shows a musical court scene with two sitting figures and a standing one in the middle - a man holding the sceptre represents the legitimacy of the Umayyad's while sitting next to him is a man holding a fly whisk - he represents the illegitimate Abbasids.  Medallion four shows the image of power through the fighting figures of a lion and a bull.The inscription around the pyxis says "God's blessing, favors, joy, beautitude to al-Mughira son of the Commander of the faithful, may God have mercy upon him, in the year 357".  This may have a dual meaning because al-Mughira was soon executed due to political rivalry, but it is highly discussed and ultimatelu unknown. Artist was too modest to sign his work.