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12 Days

1 January 2014

For each of the 12 days of Christmas we have asked Apollo staff and contributors to select the artistic highlights that they are most eagerly anticipating in 2014. The Muse Room will return with its regular daily blogs on 7 January 2014. From all of us at Apollo, happy new year!

Bag, (1300–1330), Mosul, northern Iraq

Bag, (1300–1330), Mosul, northern Iraq © The Courtauld Gallery, London

Possibly the world’s oldest surviving lady’s handbag has been scrubbed and polished to go on show at the Courtauld Gallery. It was given to the collection in 1966, by the artist and collector Thomas Gambier Parry’s grandson. Star of the show’s 40 global loans, the ‘Courtauld Wallet’ is a brass container exquisitely decorated in gold and silver with scenes of courtly life. Exhibition curator Rachel Ward says it is simply ‘one of the best pieces of metal inlay work in the world’.

Why has this masterpiece remained mostly unpublished and unseen, then? Not just because it needed a scrub, but mainly because academics could not agree on when or where it was made or for whom. So, being cautious by nature, they kept quiet. Dr Ward risks all to say: 1300–1330 at Mosul in Northern Iraq, probably for a woman in the Il-Khanid court, which traces its ancestry to Genghis Khan.

‘Court And Craft: A Masterpiece From Northern Iraq’ is at the Courtauld Gallery from 20 February – 18 May 2014.