AKM618, Biconical bead

© The Aga Khan Museum
AKM618, Biconical bead, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum
AKM618, Biconical bead, End

© The Aga Khan Museum

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Biconical bead
  • Accession Number:AKM618
  • Place:Egypt or Syria
  • Dimensions:7.2 × 2.9 cm
  • Date:10–11th century
  • Materials and Technique:gold; filigree, granulation, “rope” wire Creator:
  • Two adjoined cone shapes make up this finely wrought bead, likely one of many on a stunning necklace. Its lavish detail attests to the craftsmanship of artisans in the Fatimid dynasty (909–1171). Taking their name from Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, the Fatimids consolidated power through North Africa and as far east as the Levant and Hijaz. Ruling from the capital city of Cairo, they maintained important trade relations within Africa as well as with empires around the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The nearby Byzantine Empire (ca. 330–1453) was a particularly important trading partner. Not surprisingly, some Fatimid jewellery has very distinct links to Byzantine objects (see AKM594). 

Further Reading


Many objects in the Aga Khan Museum Collection display the art of filigree, in which fine threads of gold wire are manipulated to form scrolling patterns (see AKM495, AKM496, AKM497). This bead demonstrates a particular style of filigree known as “rope and grain filigree,” [1] which combined twisted fine wire known as “rope” along with beaded granulation to create a complex and almost sculptural ornament. A handful of comparable beads exist in public and private collections today, including similar biconical beads in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Khalili Collection, London and the Al Sabah Collection in Kuwait. [2]


This openwork filigree is referred to as mushhabbak (latticework) in 12th-century trousseau lists from the Cairo Geniza, [3] a trove of medieval documents found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat or Old Cairo, Egypt. The Cairo Geniza provides a great deal of important information about jewellery production during the Fatimid period, indicating prices, terminology, and production details about the goldsmithing and jewellery industry, much of which was staffed by Jewish craftsmen. 


The Fatimids obtained gold from a number of sources, including nearby mines in Nubia (modern day Sudan) as well as the Kingdom of Ghana. In other cases, craftsmen melted down and repurposed metal from older jewellery, a probable fate for many Fatimid pieces which no longer exist today. The infamous looting of the treasury of Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir (1036–94) around 1070 resulted in an invaluable loss of many riches from this period.


While filigree remained an important element of Fatimid jewellery, the use of granulation eventually felt to the wayside, something that scholar Marc Rosenberg has referred to as “the battle of granulation and filigree” in which the latter eventually prevailed.4 This analysis suggests that this bead is among the earliest of Fatimid jewel types.


— Courtney Stewart

[1] Michael Spink and Jack Ogden. The Art of Adornment; Jewellery of the Islamic Lands. Part I (London: Nour Foundation, 2000), 125.
[2] Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.456), Khalili Collection (JLY 1852), Al Sabah Collection (LNS 49 J).
[3] Marilyn Jenkins-Madina, The Glory of Byzantium (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997, 419–20, quoting Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, vol. 4, 211–12.
[4] Marilyn Jenkins, “Fatimid Jewelry, Its Subtypes and Influences,” Ars Orientalis, Vol. 18 (1988), 40 quoting Marc Rosenberg, “Abteilung: Granulation,” Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf Technischer Grundlage, vol. 3 (Frankfurt, 1918), 96–103.

Barrucand, Marianne. L'egypte Fatimide: Son Art Et Son Histoire : Actes Du Colloque Organisé À Paris Les 28, 29 Et 30 Mai 1998. Paris: Presses de l'université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1998, 197–217. ISBN: 9782840501626
Bloom, Jonathan M. Arts of the City Victorious. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780300135428
Content, Derek J. Islamic Rings and Gems: The Benjamin Zucker Collection. London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 1987. ISBN: 9780856673337
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, eds. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. ISBN 9781588394347
Evans, Helen, and William D. Wixom, ed. The Glory of Byzantium. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. ISBN: 9780870997778
Goitein, Shelomoh D. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780520221581
Ḥason, Rachel. Early Islamic Jewellery: L. A. Memorial Mayer Institute for Islamic Art. Jerusalem: L. A. Mayer Memorial Institute for Islamic Art, 1987. 
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, and Manuel Keene. Islamic Jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. ISBN: 9780870993268
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Fatimid Jewelry, Its Subtypes and Influences." Ars Orientalis, vol. 18 (1988), 40, 45, ill. figs. 51, 5b.
O'Kane, Bernard. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2006. ISBN: 9789774248603
Rosenberg, Marc. “Abteilung: Granulation.” Geschichte der Goldschmiedekunst auf Technischer Grundlage, vol. 3. Frankfurt: 1918, 96–103.
Spink, Michael and Jack Ogden. The Art of Adornment; Jewellery of the Islamic Lands. Part I and Part II. London: Nour Foundation, 2013.  ISBN: 9781874780861
Trésors Fatimides du Caire Exposition Présentée à l'Institut du Monde Arabe du 28 Avril au 30 Aout 1998. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1998. ISBN: 9782843060113


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