Rectangular piece of wood
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 5th century / AD 11th century
Wood; decorated with low-relief carving.
Length 370 cm, width 30 cm
A rectangular piece of wood decorated with low-relief carvings, which was probably once part of a high frieze. The decorations are arranged along two narrow bands, which hem-in a wider band lying in between them. Both of the narrow bands are embellished with vegetal decorative motifs, such as branches, surrounded by tri-lobed rosettes and fan-leaf palmettes. The central band is embellished with scenes of naturalistic human and animal activity, such as a hunting scene; a bird with a human face is also present. The scene is played out against a background of vegetal decoration, and surrounded by geometric compositions. The decorative components were originally painted which would have highlighted the detail. Symmetry and alternation were the twin dynamics that helped harmonise and defuse the decorative components.
This panel was unearthed together with some other rectangular wooden pieces in the tomb of the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun, and in the Bimaristan (hospital) Qalawun where they were used to cover the upper frieze. The decorative mode of this panel bears no relationship to the Mamluk period, but is exclusively in the Fatimid style. It is likely, therefore, that this wooden panel once graced a Fatimid palace, specifically the Fatimid Western Palace, which was built by Caliph al-Aziz bi-Allah and completed by al-Mustansir bi-Allah. However, it was on the ruins of the Fatimid Western Palace that the Bimaristan Qalawun was later built and it is, therefore, likely that these wooden frieze components were later re-used to embellish the hospital walls.
These decorative panels are considered an important source for the study of Fatimid painting for they include scenes of hunting, music, entertainment, battle and excursions, as well as depictions of birds and other animals and reveal the life of opulence led by the Fatimid elite.
This item is an example of carving on wood from the Fatimid period, influenced by Abbasid styles from Samarra that spread all over the Islamic world. Decoration is based on hunting scenes and animal shapes on a background of vegetation.
This piece was dated through study of the decorative components that appear on it, the style of representation, and by comparison with other analogous decorative pieces.
The object was transferred from the Mausoleum of Qalawun in the Nahassien (coppersmith's) district, and received by the Museum in 1909.
In view of the fact that the panel was almost certainly made for the Fatimid Western Palace, it is likely that it was made by craftsmen employed in the atelier of Caliph al-Aziz bi-Allah and produced especially to furnish the palace.
Abu Sadira, al-Said T., Al-Hiraf wa al-Sana'at fi Masr al-Islamiyya [Handicrafts and Manufacture in Islamic Egypt], Cairo, 1991.
Al-Pasha, H., et al, Al-Qāhira, tārikhuha, fūnunuha, Āthāruha [Cairo, Its History, Arts and Monuments], Cairo, 1970.
Al-Maqrizi, Al-mawā'iz wa'l-i'tibār bi-dhikr al-khiţaţ wa'l-āthār [Exhortations and Contemplation of the Recollection of Plans and Monuments], 2 Vols, Cairo, 1853.
Hassan, M. Z., Kunuz al-Fatimiyyin [Treasures of the Fatimids], Cairo, 1938.
Muhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim "Rectangular piece of wood" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;25;en
Prepared by: Muhammad Abbas Muhammad SelimMuhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim
He graduated from the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University in 1974 and received an MA on Abbasid Tiraz textiles from the same university in 1995. He has worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo since 1975. He attended a textile conservation course in Vienna while studying different collections at Austrian museums for five months. He co-authored the first catalogue of the Abegg Foundation in Bern in 1995, the catalogue of the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo and the forthcoming catalogue of the Egyptian Textile Museum. He lectured on Fatimid Art in Switzerland in 1997 and at the Ismaili Centre for Islamic Studies in London in 2003. He has classified and studied the Islamic collection at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, and is currently preparing to publish its catalogues.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 42
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Normans in Sicily | Christian Sicily and Islamic Figurative Culture: Foundations and Continuity The Fatimids | Royal Women: Granddaughters of Fatima al-Zahra′ The Fatimids | Sartorial Splendour: Tiraz and Contemporary Costume The Fatimids | Pleasures and Celebrations at Court
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