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A Siculo-Arabic gilt metal mounted ivory casket, Sicily, 12th century. Important coffret en ivoire à décor peint

of rectangular form with hinged gabled lid, the wooden structure covered with thin sheets of ivory secured by gilt copper mounts with pointed terminals and lock-plate, decorated with painted ornaments comprising interlacing vegetal motifs, peacocks, and heron inflight with fish in their beaks, the interior with beige cloth lining, standing on four small spherical feet. 25 by 12.3cm. Estimate 50,000—70,000 GBP

PROVENANCE: Ancienne Collection Aronoff

NOTE : This elegant box belongs to a group of ivory caskets attributed to Sicily and likely to have been made in Palermo by Muslim craftsmen when the island was under Norman occupation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. As a group they tend to have the same style of gilt copper mounts which are not only decorative but also act as support for the thin and fragile ivory walls. Ivory pieces such as this are likely to have been produced under Fatimid influence for the nobility in Sicily (who could afford such luxuries), and some of them are thought to have been offered as marriage gifts.

A casket with similar floral and bird motifs to the present example can be found in the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar (see Rosser-Owen, 2004, pp.24-29), whilst additional pieces are in the Museum of Turin, the Cluny Museum (inv. CL.14779) and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, the latter from the collection R. Forrer in Strasbourg (see Randall, op. cit. No. 234). Further elaborately decorated examples exist in both the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid and the Victoria & Albert Museum (see Ferrandis 1940, pl.XXVII, XXXVI & XLII). Other caskets of this kind without the painted decoration were sold in these rooms on 13 October 2004, lot 35 and 9 April 2008, lot 83.

Sotheby's. Arts of the Islamic World. 01 Apr 09. London www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's