The brass basin known as the Baptistere de Saint Louis stands 22.2 cm high, and with a diameter of 50.4 cm can be found in The Louvre in Paris, France. The basin was made in either Mamluk Syria or Egypt between 1320 and 1340 CE. It was produced by Muhammad Ibn al-Zain in the Mamluk Sultanate. From the Mamluk Sultanate, the Baptistère de Saint Louis was brought over to France to be used by the French nobility as a baptism font for several nobles, including Louis XIII, for which it received its name
The Baptistere de Saint Louis was not well documented by anyone until the 18th century. This makes it the process by which it was made unknown. What we do know, is that it was made by a master Muhammad Ibn al-Zain who signed his signatureon the basin as, "The work of Master Muhammad Ibn al-Zain, may it be forgiven him,” which was signed six times on the piece.
We do know that silver, niello, brass, and gold were all materials used in the Baptistere de Saint Louis. Muhammad Ibn al-Zain was considered a master of his trade, he likely used some of the most cutting edge technology available. Ibn al-Zain likely had metal tools along with a strong furnace to help meld the materials together. Due to the attention to detail the basin received, it is likely that Ilb al-Zain also had very high quality tools available to make such precise cuts.
With the Mamluk Sultanate's location on the Silk Road between Europe and Eastern Asia, artisans like Muhammad Ibn al-Zain likely had a great deal of materials available to buy from far away lands. For the Baptistere de Saint Louis, he used very expensive precious metals that were likely bought from merchants trading on the silk road. Frp, the Mamluk Sultanate, the basin made its way to France where it entered the possession of Sainte Chapelle . From there it was aquired by the French Monarchy, and eventually donated to the Louvre in Paris France.
Local Historical ContextEdit
The Mamluk Sultanate was a civilization that dominated modern day Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and other parts of the Middle-East from the middle of the fourteenth century to the sixteenth century. Despite defeating them in battle the Mongols greatly influenced culture in the Mamluk Sultanate. Under Mamluk rule, many religious sponsored numerous religious buildings and works of art in order to spread their Islamic ideology. Like many of major powers of the time, the Mamluk Sultanate focused much of its work in its capital, Cairo, Egypt.
With the Mamluk’s rise to power coincides with the defeat of the Crusaders. This created an identity that emerged identifying the Mamluk Sultanate as the "Defender of Islam." This identity was repeatedly challenged at first by the Mongols, and later on the Ottomans , who managed to eventually overthrow and kill the last Mamluk Sultan in 1517.
The Mamluk Sultanate was ruled by two separate dynasties, the first being the Bahri dynasty , which was overthrown by the second dynasty, the Burji dynasty . Under Mamluk rule, other Mamluks remained very militaristic with most people simpily preparing for war. However, for the local populations under the rule of the Mamluks, life went on much the same, as rural agricultural and trading dominated the everyday lives of the average subject in the Mamluk Sultanate.
The maker of the Baptistere de Saint Louis was Muhammad Ibn al-Zain, a master artisan who was likely well known and very successful. The quality of the work points to Ibn al-Zain being a paid, professional artisan rather than an unpaid slave or cheap laborer. Who the original commissioner was remains unknown, but we do know the basin ended up with the French nobility. One theory is that the basin was made for a wealthy patron in the Middle East, and then later given as a gift to the French Monarchy. However, another belief is that the Basin could have been made specifically for the French monarchy. Neither has been proven, and who its commissioner was, and the basin made its way to France remains a mystery.
For people in the Mamluk Sultanate, Baptistere de Saint Louis was likely seen as an object of pride, as it showed the skill of their artisans and the quality of their work. However, in France, the basin had a very different impact on local culture. In France, the basin was used as a baptismal font for several French nobles, including Louis XIII in 1601. Due to its use as a baptismal font, the Baptistere de Saint Louis epitomized its role in religion being used in one of Christianity’s most sacred rituals, while also illustrating splendor of the French nobility.
The Baptistere de Saint Louis is truly a significant piece of artwork, as it illustrates what the Mamluk culture values as important. For the Mamluks, the fact the panel is so ornately decorates not only shows the splendor of their culture, but to what extent strong leadership and their warrior roots were valued. When you look at the scenes illustrated on the basin, you see depictions of Emir’s and their courts praising horsemen, two hunts, and two battles. The commissioning of such an expensive piece of work can only reinforce the idea that these aspects of life were very important to the Mamluks.
A unique feature that the Baptistere de Saint Luis is that is not only a view into the Mamluk Sultanates history, but France’s as well. The date the basin made it to France and how it got there remains a mystery. Historians do know that once the basin made its way to France, it entered the possession of Sainte Chappelle in Paris, France at an unknown date. Here the basin would be used as a font for several nobles, notably Louis XIII in 1601. From there, it eventually entered the private collection of the kings of France. No matter how the Baptistere de Saint Louis made its way to France, it was likely very expensive to bring from Syria or Egypt. To bring this basin all the way from the Middle East and use it as a baptism font illustrates the heavy role Catholicism play with the French aristocracy and French society in general.
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