In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art of the Mamluks

  • Introduction
  • Classic Works Published before 2000
  • General Works
  • Urbanism and Urban Studies
  • The Mamluks and Europe

Art History Art of the Mamluks
Karen R. Mathews
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0135


The Mamluk dynasty (1250–1517) was a unique political power in the eastern Mediterranean in the late Middle Ages. The sultans and ruling elite were all mamluks, that is, slaves that were brought to Cairo from Central Asia and the Caucasus to serve as soldiers in the army. It was from the ranks of these highly trained soldiers that the sultan was selected. Mamluk territories also served as a bridge between the eastern and western Mediterranean, and Islamic and Christian lands, and the Mamluks interacted with both their Islamic counterparts to the east and various Christian lands to the west in the realms of politics, economics, and culture. Mamluk sultans and the amirs who served them were avid architectural patrons and the city of Cairo remains a testament to their passion for building. It was small-scale luxury objects, however, that were particularly prized by Mamluk trading partners, and metalwork, glass, textiles, and manuscripts all circulated widely across the Middle East and the Mediterranean, attesting to the skill of Mamluk artisans and the inherent beauty of the objects themselves. The Mamluks understood the power of the visual arts to highlight the permanence and legitimacy of the dynasty while enhancing commercial and cultural interaction through the production of sumptuous and high-quality luxury goods. This bibliography of Mamluk art and architecture incorporates scholarship on this topic published in the 21st century. In 1999, Jonathan Bloom wrote a review article about the state of scholarship on Mamluk art, and his detailed and comprehensive bibliographic references in that review article will serve as the point of departure for this bibliography. In his scholarship review, Bloom addresses the types of artworks favored in the Mamluk period, discussing decorative arts (manuscripts, textiles, metalwork, etc.) and, most important, architecture, where he notes the predominance of monographic, topographic, and typological approaches to Mamluk buildings. He also addresses methodology, citing scholarly works that focus on architectural symbolism, the reconstruction of lost monuments, and the Mamluks’ interaction with other cultures. He ends his essay with what he characterizes as shortcomings in the study of Mamluk art and architecture, noting that art historians needed to be more objective in their approach to documentary sources, break down the Egyptocentrism in the field, and make better use of an array of art historical tools in the study of these monuments. The citations included here will extend the thematic threads outlined by Bloom, while demonstrating the evolution of the field in the nearly two decades since his article appeared. Architecture continues to reign supreme as a topic of art historical inquiry and architectural and urban history citations form half of the references in this bibliography. The main approaches to architectural study—chronology, topography, typology—still pertain (see Architecture in Cairo, Individual Monuments: The Madrasa of Sultan Ḥasan, Architectural Elements and Building Typologies), but there have been significant strides in overcoming the Egypt-centered bias in the scholarship (see Architecture outside of Cairo) and in undertaking more interpretive work on the Mamluk built environment (see Interpretive Studies). Interest in small-scale portable objects has increased, due not only to the number and availability of high-quality objects to study but also because of their eclectic styles and cross-cultural circulation. Finally, online resources provide the opportunity to consult sources and interact with objects that might not be easily accessible otherwise. The field of Mamluk art historical studies has expanded considerably since 2000 and will continue to grow due to the prolific nature of Mamluk artistic production and the scholarly groundwork laid by the authors of the works included in this bibliographic essay.

Journals and Online Resources

Mamluk studies boast a journal dedicated to the topic, the Mamluk Studies Review, while other serial publications present content on the Mamluks in a more occasional fashion. Online resources are expanding daily, and general searches (“Mamluk art” and “Mamluk architecture”) yield an astonishing variety of results. Included here are a small selection of URLs that provide general overviews as well as discussions of specific objects and topics.

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