Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Hegira mid-4th century / AD mid-10th century (AH 300–50 / AD 912–61)
Height 33 cm, diameter of the abacus 31 cm
Madinat al-Zahra, Córdoba, Spain.
The decoration on the acanthus capital clearly demonstrates that the capital is based on examples from Antiquity. It has two wreaths of leaves and four volutes that run diagonally. Over the volutes lies the abacus, the top slab of the capital. The volutes end in four-petalled blossoms. Acanthus leaves cover the protruding volutes. The leaves terminate under the abacus and appear to be holding it up. On top of the abacus one can see an architectural design that was obviously drawn using square and compasses. An inscription, encircling the abacus, refers to the capital’s artists, patron and builders.
This explicit reference to the craftsmen and builders involved in the building is exceptional for buildings of this period. Abd al-Rahman III (AH 300–50 / AD 912–61) is referred to in the inscription: ‘In the name of God, a blessing from God for the leader of the believers. May God endow Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad with a long life’. Later it declares: ‘[This forms part of what] he commissioned to be executed under the direction of his slave Shunaif, made by Fath, the marble specialist’. Shunaif was the foreman, and Fath was identified for the first time in an inscription on a building in AH 318 / AD 930. He had originally been a slave in the court of the caliphs and was not of Arab descent. As is testified by numerous building inscriptions, Fath worked over decades on various Caliphate buildings in Andalusia. His name is also associated with the enlargement of the great mosque in Córdoba and the castle complex of Madinat al-Zahra. It is not possible to determine whether this capital comes from one of these architectural complexes. However, it has been determined that the foreman Shunaif worked on the Salon Rico, the reception hall of Madinat al-Zahra in AH 342–3 / AD 953–4. Abd al-Rahman had declared himself Caliph of the western Islamic world in AH 317 / AD 929.
Acanthus capitals were also symbols of wealth and of immortality, ever since their use from the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece. The acanthus thistle, with its opulent and thick, well-defined leaf margins was therefore a popular decorative form also employed in the Greek provinces such as Spain.
Marble capitals with ornament influenced by the Classical period were used in the palaces of the Umayyad rulers in al-Andalus. Although some capitals have inscriptions it is exceptional to find the names of the patron, the overseer and the marble-worker who chiselled the capital out of a marble block.
The object has been dated to between 300 and 350 / 912 and 961 through the inscription dedicated to the Caliph Abd al-Rahman III and citing the name of Fath the craftsman.
From a gallery in New York.
The provenance from the Caliphate of Córdoba, Spain has been securely established through the inscription citing to Caliph Abd al-Rahman III.
Barrucand, M. and Bednorz, A., Maurische Architektur in Andalusien, Cologne, 1991, pp.59–69, 71–9.
Dodds, J., Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain,New York, 1992, pp.27–39, ill. 35–9.
Gladiss, A. v., “Das Spanisch-Arabische Kapitell”, in Schätze der Alhambra. Islamische Kunst aus Andalusien,(ed. Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Berlin, 1992, pp.138–87, ill. 144–5.
Kautzsch, R., Kapitellstudien, Berlin; Leipzig, 1936.
Museum für Islamische Kunst, Catalogue, Mainz, 2001, pp.91–2.
Annette Hagedorn "Capital" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;15;en
Prepared by: Annette Hagedorn
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 20
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Muslim West | Andalusian-Maghrebi Art
MWNF GalleriesArchitectural Elements
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)