Gold pendant with inset enamel decoration


Pendant, 11th century, Fatimid dynasty, gold with inset enamel decoration, 3 x 2.5 cm (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Pendant, 11th century, Fatimid dynasty, gold with inset enamel decoration, 3 x 2.5 cm (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Map of the Fatimid Empire (map: Askelaadden, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Map of the Fatimid Empire (map: Askelaadden, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This crescent-shaped gold pendant may originally have been hung with strings of pearls, from the three loops along the bottom. It is decorated with delicate bands of fine gold filigree around a small cloisonné enamel inset depicting two confronted birds and a central tree. The crescent shape is typical of jewelry produced in the Islamic world.

The Fatimid goldsmiths may have been inspired to use cloisonné enamel-work by imitating contemporary enameled gold jewelry from Byzantium. Such jewelry could have been imported, sent as diplomatic gifts from the Byzantine emperors, or made by Byzantine craftsmen who had moved to Fatimid Egypt. However, there is evidence that the Fatimid goldsmiths did not produce these enamel insets themselves, but rather bought them ready-made—perhaps as imports from Byzantium, or from Byzantine craftsmen living in Egypt.

Pendant, 11th century, Fatimid dynasty, gold with inset enamel decoration, 3 x 2.5 cm (© Trustees of the British Museum)

Pendant, 11th century, Fatimid dynasty, gold with inset enamel decoration, 3 x 2.5 cm (© Trustees of the British Museum)

The Fatimid dynasty was famous for its extraordinary treasury, stocked with riches and rarities from around the world. Some of these treasures were diplomatic gifts from other rulers, and included fine pieces of jewelry: in 1046, the Fatimid caliph received a huge gift from the Emperor of Byzantium, during the course of negotiations to renew an armistice between the two great powers. The gift was carried on the backs of two hundred mules wearing fine saddle-cloths, and included a hundred gold vessels with enamel inlay, as well as a thousand different types of fine brocade, gold-decorated girdles, and gold-embroidered turbans. Two hundred Muslim prisoners of war were also returned home. A contemporary Fatimid courtier recorded that “No former Byzantine emperor had ever offered a similar gift to any of the previous caliphs of Islam from time immemorial to the present time.”

 

© Trustees of the British Museum

Cite this page as: The British Museum, "Gold pendant with inset enamel decoration," in Smarthistory, September 9, 2021, accessed November 26, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/gold-pendant-enamel-fatimid/.