The shape of this exceptional object is unique in metalwork and has had various functions ascribed to it.
New research suggests it was a bag made for a noblewoman of the Il-Khanid dynasty (1256-1353), part of the vast Mongol empire descended from Genghis Khan. The court scene on the lid shows a banquet with at its centre a lady seated alongside her husband on a double throne. They are surrounded by a retinue, including the lady’s attendant (to her right), who wears a similar bag suspended from his shoulder.
The meticulous inlay technique of this bag and much of its decoration are typical of the kind of luxurious metalwork Mosul was famous for producing before the Mongol invasion in 1262. Small roundels all over the surface contain musicians and revellers, while in the large roundels front and back are elaborately equipped horsemen. On the front of the bag a horseman is spearing a lion. On the back another has a falcon perched on his left wrist, a coil of rope suspended from his forearm and a decorative plume attached to his stirrup. The prominence of these two horsemen reflects the high status of hunting in the medieval Islamic world.
The metal bag featured in the Court and Craft exhibition, held at The Courtauld Gallery from 20 February to 18 May 2014, which explored the origin and cultural context of this extraordinary object, alongside displays of illustrated manuscripts, ceramics and other luxury crafts.