Painted wooden board
Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 3rd century / AD 9th century
Wood, painted decoration.
Length 135 cm, width 27.5 cm
This cedarwood board comes from the ceilings of the prayer hall of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, where the roof structure is composed of lintels resting on columns and on the walls, following the north–south direction of the nave. The tie-beams, perpendicular to these elements, are supported at each end by carved and painted corbels.
The oldest part of the ceilings of the Great Mosque of Kairouan dates from the AH 3rd / AD 9th century. It is decorated with foliate scrolls and fleurons.
The panel has a red background and is composed of four squares with concave sides. Painted green and blue in each of the squares are two intertwining stylised flowers with four petals. They form a sort of octagonal star enclosing a blue or green circle.
Each petal ends in a bud surrounded by two flared foliate scrolls. Straight out of the Middle Ages, the painted ceilings of the Great Mosque of Kairouan represent an unique collection in Muslim art, which renders any attempt at research into the origin of their decoration quite difficult. In fact, decorated ceilings covered the central nave of the Great Mosque at Córdoba, but the ante quem limit of their dating hardly goes back beyond the AH 4th / AD 10th century, and the magnificent ceilings of the Palatine Chapel at Palermo date from the AH 6th / AD 12th century.
Originally part of the ceilings of the prayer room in the Great Mosque of Kairouan, this piece is beautifully decorated with foliage and fleurons on a red background. The painted ceilings of the Great Mosque of Kairouan constitute the only collection of its type in Islamic art.
The board's decorative motifs can be found in some of the panels of the carved minbar and in the painted wood half-dome of the mihrab niche of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, which date from the middle of the 3rd / 9th century. They are certified as being Syrian Umayyad art.
These indications, as well as comparison with the different types and models of painted wood forming the ceilings collection from the Great Mosque of Kairouan, date this board from the end of the 3rd / 9th century, probably from the time of the restoration work on the doors and ceilings of the prayer hall ordered and funded by the Aghlabid prince, Ibrahim II (r. 261–89 / 875–902). The dating of this panel from the 5th / 11th century is refutable, since the models, boards and beams of this period are not comparable.
After the restoration of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, between 1962 and 1972, some beams, boards and joists were taken out and completely replaced. This piece was placed along with thousands of other fragments in the storerooms of the National Institute of the Patrimony of Kairouan. It was selected for display when the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada was extended.
These decorative motifs appear in some of the carved panels of the minbar and in the painted wood half-dome of the mihrab niche of the Great Mosque of Kairouan.
De Carthage a Kairouan (exhibition catalogue), Paris, 1982, p.207.
Les Andalousies (exhibition catalogue), Paris, 2000, pp.194–5.
The Arts of Islam (exhibition catalogue), London, 1976, p.284, cat. no. 440.
30 ans au service du patrimoine (exhibition catalogue), 1986, p.262.
Marçais G., Coupoles et plafonds de la grande Mosquee de Kairouan, Tunis and Paris, 1925.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.175–6.
Mourad Rammah "Painted wooden board" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;10;en
Prepared by: Mourad RammahMourad Rammah
Né en 1953 à Kairouan, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mourad Rammah est le conservateur de la médina de Kairouan. Lauréat du prix Agha Khan d'architecture, il publie divers articles sur l'histoire de l'archéologie médiévale islamique en Tunisie et participe à différentes expositions sur l'architecture islamique. De 1982 à 1994, il est en charge du département de muséographie du Centre des arts et des civilisations islamiques. Mourad Rammah est également directeur du Centre des manuscrits de Kairouan.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TN 15
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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