© Nora von Achenbach

Name of Object:

Bronze mirror with sphinxes and kufic inscription


Hamburg, Germany

Holding Museum:

MKG Museum for Art and Industry


Hegira 6th-7th / AD 12th-13th century

Type of object:


Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Cast bronze


Diameter: 10.8cm

Period / Dynasty:





This cast, round mirror is decorated with reliefs and a perforated lug handle in the centre. Carved on the back of the mirror is pair of sphinxes with scorpion tails surrounded by floral ornament. A kufic inscription around the rim reads: "Oh God, I invoke Thy sublime Name! God, the Only and Eternal God – I have sworn to Thee by the truth of these names, the angel who watches over Saturn, … sworn by the Master whose works encompass all names and every name, that Thou shouldn’t send me one of Thine angels into this, my mirror, who shall inform me of everything I ask him about what comes to pass in this world and the next. And, by the Lord of Heaven: Thou hast sent me an essence of Thy mighty and intensive spirituality which comes down to me in this mirror and reveals itself to me. He tells me everything which I ask him and obeys me in everything which I order him to do …. Whosever only sees themselves in their dirty and impure state of being, the blame lies with them – and so be it / peace be with God."

The Seljuq period saw an increased production of circular cast-bronze mirrors with fully decorated backs and there are several identical objects in other collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the British Museum, London. The sphinxes, the most popular iconography of the period, have been a symbol of the sun since ancient times. This specific motif additionally relates the astrological sign, Scorpio. Combined with the inscriptions, these mirrors possibly functioned similarly to magic amulets in holding an apotropaic power to ward off evil.

How date and origin were established:

By comparison with similar dated objects, regarding style and inscriptions.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased in 1929.

How provenance was established:

Prepossessor: Staatliche Münzsammlung München.

Selected bibliography:

Allan, James W., Metalwork of the Islamic World: The Aron Collection, London: Sotheby’s, 1986.
Canby, S. R., Beyazit, D., Rugiadi, M. et al., The Great Age of the Seljuqs: Court and Cosmos, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
Chirvani, A., Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982.
La Niece, S., Ward, R., Hook, D., Craddock, P., “Medieval Islamic Copper Alloys,” in P. Jett, B. McCarthy and J. G. Douglas (eds), Scientific Research on Ancient Asian Metallurgy: Proceedings of the Fifth Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art, London: Archetype, 2012.
Pope, A. U., Masterpieces of Persian Art, New York: Asia House, 1954. Porter, V. and Rosser-Owen, M., Metalwork and Material Culture in the Islamic World: Art, Craft and Text: Essays Present to James W. Allan, London: I. B. Tauris, 2012.
Savage-Smith, E. (ed), Magic and Divination in early Islam. The Formation of the Classical Islamic World, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
Ward, R., Islamic Metalwork, London: British Museum Press, 1993.
Zambelli, P., Astrology and Magic from the Medieval Latin and Islamic World to Renaissance Europe: Theories and Approaches, Farnham: Ashgate 2012.

Citation of this web page:

 "Bronze mirror with sphinxes and kufic inscription" in Explore Islamic Art Collections , Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;EPM;de;Mus21;20;en&id=amulets_and_talismans

Copyedited by: Caitlin Link

MWNF Working Number: DE1 20