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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

The Contribution to Islam                  363
parchment in the beautiful naskbi Arabic script: a notable
collection of such volumes, written for the Mamluk rulers, of
truly monumental size and beauty, is preserved in the Royal
Library at Cairo. Inscriptions also served to decorate the walls
of mosques and other public buildings, and of these many
examples are yet to be seen in Egypt. The peculiar Kufic script,
extremely difficult to decipher, especially when it blossoms out
into a very riot of ornament, proved most suitable for execution
in stone. Later the naskbt script was also used for the same
purpose. A further example of the intricate use of design, very
characteristic of Egyptian Islamic art, is the mashribiyya or
lattice-work which formerly adorned private houses, as well as
certain public buildings: designed to secure privacy from out-
side passers-by, as well as to serve as a filter for strong sunlight,
these elaborately carved wooden shutters have now largely dis-
appeared from the streets which until comparatively recent
times they so richly adorned. A parallel use of carved wood is
found in mosque doors—a notable example is the old door of
the Azhar mosque, now preserved in the Arab Museum at
Cairo—and furniture. Inlay work, already found in the Coptic
period, in which ivory, and later mother of pearl, is worked into
carved wood, has likewise exercised the skill of Egyptian car-
penters. Bone and ivory also responded to similar treatment.
In stone, the truly amazing examples of delicate tracery, and
that most glorious of all Muslim masonry decorations, the
stalactite pendentive, still to be seen in abundance in the old
mosques of Cairo, bear witness to the consummate skill of crafts-
men, as well as to the inspiration of artists. It may certainly
be said that intricacy of design and symmetry of pattern never
achieved greater perfection than in the carved work of the
medieval Muslim craftsmen. Egypt, and especially Cairo, is a
rich field for the investigator of this art, since monuments built
in the best period of Saracen art yet abound. Where for other
crafts, working in less durable materials, recourse has to be