Name of Object:

Lower half of a sculpturesque high relief

Location:

Damascus, Syria

Holding Museum:

National Museum of Damascus

About National Museum of Damascus, Damascus

Date of Object:

Hegira about 109 / AD 727

Museum Inventory Number:

09

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved limestone.

Dimensions:

Height 1.06 m, width 0.9 m

Period / Dynasty

Umayyad period

Provenance:

Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi; 80 km southwest of Palmyra.

Description:

This is one of a prominent group of sculpturesque high-relief representing human figures, animals, and vegetal motifs found in Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi. It consists of the lower half of a man sitting on a throne with his feet on a small stool. The stool is in the shape of a colonnaded portico that is supported by seven arches that rest on pairs of pillars. While other statues in the palace appear to be based on Sassanid prototypes, some prominent historians have also linked this figure with those at Qusayr Amra, which show clear Byzantine or Mediterranean influences.
There is speculation that the figure represents Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik who commissioned the building of the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi complex. This is based on the fact that the statue exhibits luxurious clothing with traces of red, green and brown paint. The building under his feet symbolises his power and the extent of his rule. It is clearly intended to emphasise the glory and majesty of the ruler.
Sculptures in stucco are part of the pre-Islamic Iraqi, Iranian and Central Asian tradition. Extremely high-relief pieces such as this, or even stand-alone sculptures in the round, are a new development in this tradition, although they can be compared to the relief sculptures found in Palmyrene tombs of ancient Syria.
This sculpture was located on the second floor of the palace, along the interior façade that overlooks the courtyard colonnade.

View Short Description

Although fragmentary, this figurative carving in high-relief may have represented the Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik dressed in Persian-inspired royal garb and sitting on his throne.

Original Owner:

Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. AH 105–25 / AD 724–43)

How date and origin were established:

This object, along with the rest of the palace complex, was dated according to the inscription on the lintel of the door of the khan adjoining the palace, which carries the date 109 (727).

How Object was obtained:

The object was found during the archaeological excavation of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi completed by the French Expedition of 1936 under the direction of Daniel Schlumberger.

How provenance was established:

The object was found and probably carved in situ at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.

Selected bibliography:

Ettinghausen, R., Grabar, O., and Jenkins-Madina, M., Islamic Art and
Architecture 650–1250, New Haven, 2001, p.44; fig. 52.
Grabar, O., Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven, 1987, fig. 80.
Schlumberger, D., Qasr el-Heir el-Gharbi, Paris, 1986.

Citation of this web page:

Mona al-Moadin "Lower half of a sculpturesque high relief" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;5;en

Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: SY 09

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