National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 109 / AD 727
Plaster, painted using the secco technique.
Length 5 m, width 4.85 m
Syrian Desert; 80 km southwest of Palmyra.
The Umayyad desert palaces show clearly the influence of earlier artistic traditions – both from the Byzantine Empire in the West, and the Sassanid Empire in the East, what is now modern Iran. This painting shows the influence of the art and mythology of the Sassanids. It covered the floor of the reception room in the east wing of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
The upper section shows two court minstrels playing musical instruments, a nai (a woodwind instrument) and an oud (a string instrument), beneath a pair of ornamented arches. The lower section portrays a clean-shaven hunter galloping on horseback. The hunter is dressed in Sassanid-style fashion; his head-scarf flying behind him, his bow and arrow are drawn tight for the catch. On the lower right-hand corner is a gazelle, running away while looking back. It is possible that this scene is based on a famous Persian epic, possibly Bahram Gur's Hunting Feats.
Some scholars have deduced that this fresco reflects a choice by the Caliph to re-orient his empire to look East instead of West especially after Muslim attempts to conquer Constantinople failed. Thus the Caliph chose to adopt the Sassanid imperial heritage as a model for the language of power.
This painting lay on the floor of the reception hall, and one can notice in its upper section traces of a round column that stood on top of it.
The iconographic traditions of courtly activity, such as the image of a prince galloping on horseback flaunting his hunting expertise, is derived from the pre-Islamic Sassanid Empire of Persia. It is here depicted on an Umayyad painting from the Syrian palace of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. AH 105–25 / AD 724–43)
The floor, along with the rest of the palace complex, was dated according to the inscribed door lintel of the khan adjoining the palace complex. The lintel carries the date 109 / 727, and indicates that the complex was built by Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik.
The floor painting was discovered during the 1936 French excavation of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, which was led by archaeologist Daniel Schlumberger. When the plaster façade from the front of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi was prepared for relocation at the National Museum during the 1940s this floor painting was stabilised on the wall of the main room of the new Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi wing, formally inaugurated by the Museum in 1950.
This floor painting was produced on in situ at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
Abu al-Faraj al-Ush, M., A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, 1969, pp.151–2.
Ettinghausen, R., Arab Painting, Lausanne, 1962, p.37.
Papadopoulo, A., Islam and Muslim Art, New York, 1979, p.387, fig. 179.
Schlumberger, D., “Deux fresques Omeyyades”, Syria, XXV, 1946–8, pp.86–102.
Schlumberger, D., Qasr el-Heir el-Gharbi, Paris, 1986, XIX, plate 34.
Mona al-Moadin "Floor painting" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;2;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 02
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Umayyads | Court Ceremonials and Pastimes
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)