Fragment of a female statue from Mushatta
Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Around hegira 125–6 / AD 743–4
Limestone, carved and sculpted.
Height 70 cm, width 50 cm
This fragment of the lower half of a female body is of a woman, whose robe has fallen, revealing her body from her hips to below her bottom. It is still possible to make out that the woman is holding the pleated robe with her right hand at her thigh, while remains of the robe are preserved at the left thigh. Her hips and buttocks remain uncovered. The thighs are intact up to a point just above the knee. The back part is covered in places by cloth, but the front of her legs is naked. The female figure, through its plump proportions and voluptuous forms, represents the aesthetic ideal of the Umayyad period for the representative arts. It belonged to the repertory of themes in the art of the court. Over the left thigh there is a deeply carved inscription in kufic script that runs vertically downwards, which would once have revealed the name of the woman. A satisfactory translation of the inscription has yet to be completed.
The fragment belongs to a group of female figures that were displayed within various Umayyad castles. It can be said that these figures were based on the forms used both in Byzantine sculpture and painting and in Sassanid sculpture. The Umayyad Court developed its own thematic repertoire while borrowing from older examples. As well as in Mushatta, life-sized female figures were also found in Khirbat al-Mafdjar and Qasr al-Hair al-Gharbi. Near life-size paintings decorate the Palace in Qusayr ‘Amra.
The question arises whether less dogmatic articles of faith obtaining during the earlier part of the Umayyad period favoured the creation of such sculptures. Undoubtedly, women were portrayed then as dancing girls and musicians, as members of harems or as goddesses. Given its incomplete condition, it is impossible to say whether this female figure was intended to represent a girl from the harem. Another female sculpture from Mushatta can be seen carrying an embossed container or cloth bag on her left side, for the purpose of sprinkling herself, or the ruler, with sweet-smelling perfume. Sculptures such as these demonstrate how powerfully pre-Islamic forms still exerted themselves over the art of this period. Nevertheless, the fact that this figure was then deliberately damaged shows how such freestanding sculptures were later disapproved of and rejected.
In the Umayyad period Islamic caliphs and princes chose to adorn their palaces with a rich figural repertoire. This damaged female lower body with a vertical kufic inscription on the left thigh belonged to a partially clad, life-sized figure.
Probably Caliph al-Walid II (r. AH 125–6 / AD 743–4)
The origin of this piece is affirmed through its discovery during the excavation of Qasr al-Mushatta in 1903, and it could thus be contemporary to the façade.
As a gift from the Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid (Abdülhamid) II along with the façade of Mushatta in 1903.
The provenance of the object has been affirmed through its discovery during the excavations in Qasr al-Mushatta in 1903.
Baer, E., “Female Images in Early Islam”, Damaszener Mitteilungen 11, 1999, pp.13–24, plate 5a.
Hillenbrand, R., “La Dolce Vita in Early Islamic Syria: The Evidence of Later Umayyad Palaces”, Art History 5(1), 1982, pp.1–35.
Trümpelmann, L., Mschatta, Tübingen, 1962, p.36.
Trümpelmann, L., “Die Skulpturen von Mschatta”, Archäologischer Anzeiger 2, 1965, pp.235–75, ill. 9–12.
Talgam, R., The Stylistic Origins of the Umayyad Sculpture, Wiesbaden, 2004, Vol. 1, pp.17, 29; Vol. 2, pp.61, 67, 94, 108.
Annette Hagedorn "Fragment of a female statue from Mushatta" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;50;en
Prepared by: Annette Hagedorn
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 67
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Umayyads | Court Ceremonials and Pastimes Figurative Art | Human Representation
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