Name of Object:

Door wings of al-Hakim bi-Amrillah

Location:

Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo

Date of Object:

Hegira 386–411 / AD 996–1021

Museum Inventory Number:

551

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carving on wood.

Dimensions:

Height 325 cm, width 200 cm

Period / Dynasty

Fatimid

Provenance:

Cairo, Egypt.

Description:

The door from the Congregational Mosque of al-Azhar is made up of two leafs, each of which contains seven rectangular panels, some of which are vertical and others, horizontal. The two top panels are decorated by a two-line inscription in floriated kufic script. It should be noted that the position of these two door panels were switched around when they were remounted. In order to read the text in the appropriate way, one must read in reverse order and begin by reading the top line of the panel on the left-hand side and then continue with the top line from the panel on the right-hand side, in the following manner: “Our Lord, the Commander of the Faithful / the Imam, al-Hakim bi-Amrillah / May the Blessings of God be upon him and upon / his ancestors, al-Tahireen, and his descendants”.
Al-Hakim bi-Amrillah was the specific title assumed by the Fatimid Caliph, al-Mansur. His agnomen was Abu Ali (Father of Ali). The inscription ends with a prayer on behalf of the Fatimid caliph, and is a well-known Fatimid supplication that ascribes the attribute, al-Tahireen, to the ancestors of the Fatimid caliphs. This is a term that alludes to those who are considered as being far beyond reproach, stain, or sin and it was an attribute applied to those who belonged to the family of the Prophet Muhammad and those who were related to this family, such as the Fatimid caliphs. The 12 remaining panels are ornamented with carved vegetal motifs in low relief. These decorations clearly reveal the particularities of the early Fatimid style of wood carving, a style of slanted, bevelled engraving, and one which is distinctive of the Tulunid style. It may be observed that the decorative elements assume the form of vegetal stems, marked by their length, and the use of decoration in the form of bi-segmented palm fronds. It should also be noted that the decorative vocabulary includes a new design motif, in the form of a kidney-shaped blossom developed from the winged leaf. Thus the door of al-Hakim sheds light on the development of Islamic woodcarving and assists in the dating of some other wooden objects of the period.

View Short Description

An example of the flourishing woodcarving industry in Fatimid Cairo, this door, donated by Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah to al-Azhar Mosque, stands proof of the patronage of Fatimid caliphs of religious institutions and their maintenance and reconstruction.

How date and origin were established:

The object was dated by the name of the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah which appears on it. Furthermore, dating is based on the known interest that al-Hakim took in the building and maintenance of the al-Azhar Congregational Mosque, for he enlarged the mosque by adding two colonnaded arcades (riwaqs) in the courtyard. Historians also allude to the waqf (endowment) in the name of al-Hakim that dates to 400 / 1009 and the fact that revenues from the endowment are reverted to al-Azhar Mosque to be spent on the salaries of the Khatib (orator), a'imma (imams, prayer leaders), mu'addiniin (muezzins), servants, furnishing, other implements and for lighting and lighting accessories.

How Object was obtained:

This door was transferred from the Congregational Mosque of al-Azhar and preserved in the Museum of Islamic Art; as one of the museum's first acquisitions in around 1903 it formed the basis of the collection.

How provenance was established:

The inscription on the door alludes specifically to Al-Hakim bi-Amrillah which was the title assumed by the Fatimid Caliph, al-Mansur. It is known that the caliph took an active interest in the building and maintenance of the al-Azhar Congregational Mosque and that the waqf in the name of al-Hakim directs revenues from the endowment to al-Azhar Mosque. The door was transferred from the mosque to the Museum of Islamic Art in the early 20th century.

Selected bibliography:

Al-Pasha, H., et al, al-Qāhira, ārikhuha, fūnunuha, Āthāruha [Cairo, its History, Arts and Monuments], Cairo, 1970.
Ettinghausen, R., and Grabar, O., The Art and Architecture of Islam 650–1250, New Haven and London, 1987.
Hassan, Z. M., Atlas al-Funun al-Zukhrufiya wa al-Tasawir al-Islamiya [Atlas of Islamic Decorative Arts and Pictorial Representations], Beirut, 1981.
_____________, Kunuz al-Fatimiyin [Treasures of the Fatimids], Cairo, 1937.
Pauty, E., Catalogue du musée arabe du Caire, Cairo, 1931.

Citation of this web page:

Salah Sayour "Door wings of al-Hakim bi-Amrillah" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;27;en

Prepared by: Salah SayourSalah Sayour

Salah Ahmad Sayour holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University (1973) and is currently studying for an MA in the same field. In 1979 he had a four-month scholarship at Austrian museums to study museology. Preparing exhibitions for the Museum of Islamic Art's collections in the Arab World Institute, Paris and curating exhibitions held in host museums in the USA and Paris augmented his experience leading to his appointment as head of several sections at the Museum. He has written several articles on Islamic painting and arts for Prism Magazine published by the Ministry in different languages and has participated in preparing scientific texts for the catalogues for the Museum's exhibitions at home and abroad.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: ET 47

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