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This 14th century Iraqi handbag is the only one of its type in the world

a photo of a metalwork engraved handbag

Metalwork bag from Mosul, Northern Iraq. Courtesy Courtauld Gallery

A small but beautifully formed collection of Islamic metalwork from the Courtauld Art Gallery is about to tour the UK

With its shape and strangely familiar design, the Courtauld Bag might seem like a contemporary creation, but it was made in Mosul, present- day northern Iraq, for a noble lady of the Persian-Mongol court between around 1300 – 1330.

Recognised as one of the finest pieces of Islamic inlaid metalwork in existence, it is the only surviving object of its kind and is the highlight of the Courtauld Gallery’s small but renowned collection of Islamic metalwork.

The collection was formed by one of the great Victorian art collectors, Thomas Gambier Parry (1816- 1888), to complement his acquisitions of precious medieval and early Renaissance paintings and decorative arts, with which they are normally displayed at the London gallery.

Numbering some of the finest examples of this intricate craft from modern-day Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Turkey, the unusual collection is to travel to four venues in the UK from September 2019 to January 2021 – during the The Courtauld Gallery’s temporary closure for a major restoration project.

A voracious collector, Gambier Parry’s tastes were catholic yet refined and ranged from late medieval and Early Renaissance paintings to stoneware ceramics, small sculpted reliefs, ivories, and majolica. He also developed a taste for post-Byzantine wooden crosses from Mount Athos.

photo of a metal engraved handbag with hinged lid open

Courtesy Courtauld Gallery

a close up photo of detailed Islamic styled metal work

Courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

As well as having the quintessential Victorian collector tastes, Gambier Parry was also an artist who developed his own version of fresco painting (the Gambier Parry process) and, as a man of inherited wealth, he also put his money into philanthropic causes – founding a college, children’s hospital and even building a church.

The bulk of his collection, together with his holding of early Italian paintings, were bequeathed to the Courtuald in 1966 where they have been on public display ever since.

Now his rare Islamic metalwork collection has been cleaned and conserved for the first time since the bequest was made over fifty years ago and is to tour to Truro, Bradford, Bath and Oxford.

The works start their tour at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro in autumn 2019, travelling to Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford in early 2020. In the summer of 2020, they will be displayed as part of a small, stand-alone exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The tour will end at the History of Science Museum in Oxford, where the objects will be part of a loan exhibition showing the shared decorative language used on scientific instruments made in the Middle East during the same period.

Dr. Sussan Babaie, Iranian-American art historian at The Courtauld Institute of Art, best known for her extensive research on Persian and Islamic art and architecture of the early modern period, will be giving a talk at each of the partner venues. The tour complements major loans that the gallery makes through its Regional Partnership Programme.

An additional selection of Islamic metalwork from The Courtauld is on display at The National Gallery, along with other decorative arts and paintings.

More highlights from the collection:

Incense burner of pierced and engraved brass inlaid with silver, with images of the planets within roundels

Incense burner, Mamluk (Syria) 13th century (1200 – 1299). Courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Bowl-shaped box with cover of engraved brass inlaid with silver

A bowl shaped box, Mahmud al-Kurdi (15th century). Courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Bowl of engraved brass inlaid with silver; decorated with inscriptions of titles interspersed with roundels containing alternately birds and interlaced plants with central whirling rosettes

Engraved bowl. Mamluk, 14th century (1300 – 1399). Courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Candlestick of cast bronze engraved and inlaid with silver

Eastern Anatolian (Konya?), Turkey, late 13th century. Courtesy Courtauld Gallery.

Tour Dates:

Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, September 27 2019 – January 12 2020

Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford, January 18 – 10 May 2020

The Holburne Museum, Bath May 20 – September 6 2020

The History of Science Museum, Oxford, September 11 2020 – January 3 2021

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