Fragment of a mural painting
National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 109 / AD 727
Plaster, using the fresco technique.
Height 41 cm, width 39 cm
Syrian Desert; 80 km southwest of Palmyra.
This fragment belongs to a group of fresco paintings that once adorned the walls of the second floor of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi. It shows the face of a woman in three-quarter profile with a fashionable, delicate shawl wrapped around her head and draping over her shoulders. She wears earrings and the black curls of her hair frame her forehead and cheeks. She is situated amidst a background of geometric and stylised vegetal patterns.
Her features are those of an Arab woman. Archaeologists believe she is a songstress from the palace. Historical sources mention that songstresses were brought from the Hijaz region, in the western Arabian Desert, to sing in the Umayyad palaces of the Syrian Desert.
This Umayyad painting presents distinctly Arab features of female beauty: the big almond-shaped kohl-lined eyes, the whiteness of the eyeball contrasting with the dark pupil, the Bedouin-style earrings and the distinctively draped headscarf.
Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. 105-125 / 724–43)
This object, along with the rest of the palace complex, was dated according to the inscription located on the door lintel of the khan adjoining the palace. The inscription specifies the year AH 109 / AD 727 as the year the building was constructed and the Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik is named as its patron.
This mural fragment was discovered during the 1936 French archaeological excavation of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, which was directed by the archaeologist Daniel Schlumberger. When the entrance façade of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi was prepared for relocation at the National Museum of Damascus during the 1940s, this painting was selected from a large group of paintings and exhibited in the upper level of the relocated section of the palace.
The wall painting was produced in situ at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
Ettinghausen, R., Arab Painting, Lausanne, 1962.
Kohlmeyer, K. (ed), Land des Baal, Mainz, 1982, p.232, p.272.
Schlumberger, D., “Deux fresques Omeyyades”, Syria, XXV, 1946–8, pp.86–102.
Schlumberger, D., Qasr el-Heir el-Gharbi, Paris, 1986, plate 37.
Mona al-Moadin "Fragment of a mural painting" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;3;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 03
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Women | Muslim Women’s Costume and Jewellery
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)