Frescoed architectural fragment from a bathhouse
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 5th century / AD 11th century
Fresco: stucco-painted with watercolour in red and black.
Height 24.5 cm, width 60 cm
A frescoed architectural fragment that once formed part of a bathhouse, consisting of a niche with a pointed arch. The imagery within the niche portrays a figure, executed in black and red watercolours against a white background, executed in the fresco technique. The subject is a seated youth – who might have been a prince – and who holds a cup in his hand. He is wearing a loose robe-like garment, which is decorated with red vegetal motifs. His upper arms are encircled by two bands, and his head is covered by a pleated turban. A complete circular halo appears around the youth's head, perhaps to emphasise his status. He wears a scarf placed around his back, the two ends emerging from under his armpits and then left hanging down, suspended in mid-air. Two parts of the youth's hair can be seen beneath the turban, one in the front and the other at the back.
The niche is framed by an arch composed of bead-like roundels. The fresco itself resembles paintings found in Samarra, Iraq in terms of both the figures; the shape of the heads and the circular halo, for instance, as well as in the repetitive decorative motifs; the frame in the form of an arch, for example. In addition the implementation of style is far from realistic, and leans more towards the decorative, with clear Persian influences. The Fatimid frescoes are not too different in form, style, or thematic content from depictions executed on metallic lustre ceramics, which were being produced in Egypt during this period. It is possible to study the pictorial representation on this architectural fragment by comparing it to similar Fatimid-period examples executed on various media: ceramics, some wooden pieces and on many textiles. Furthermore it is interesting to consider the role of painting itself as a distinctive decorative component of the applied arts during the Fatimid period.
Baths were buildings of importance in the Islamic world due to their role in purification and hygiene. The walls of bathhouses were commonly decorated with frescoes, like the example we see here.
Painting on all the applied arts is a distinctive feature of the Fatimid period, it also makes comparison with other paintings of the period a useful means of dating an object.
Archaeological excavations undertaken by the Centre of Arab Antiquities in 1932 revealed the presence of a Fatimid bathhouse in the region of Fustat. Some of its constituent parts, including this architectural fragment, were transferred and registered as acquisitions of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo in 1934.
Fustat was narrowed-down as the place of production for this architectural fragment as the piece was discovered in situ in a Fatimid bathhouse.
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Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad "Frescoed architectural fragment from a bathhouse" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;26;en
Prepared by: Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa HammadAl-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad
He holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities from the Faculty of Art, Cairo University and an MA in the same field from Assiut University. He has been working at the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, since 1974 and attended a training course at Vienna Museum in 1977. He has supervised sections of glass and manuscripts and, currently, coins. At the Museum he has participated in preparing exhibitions at home and abroad and has been a member of several inventory committees. From 1988 to 1999 he worked as a lecturer at Om al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and registered and organised the display of the acquisitions of the Civilisation Museum at the Shari'a and Islamic Studies Faculty at the University.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 44
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Fatimids | Sartorial Splendour: Tiraz and Contemporary Costume The Normans in Sicily | Christian Sicily and Islamic Figurative Culture: Foundations and Continuity Women | The Private Lives of Muslim Women The Fatimids | Pleasures and Celebrations at Court
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