Fragment from a mosaic floor
Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 303 / AD 916
Limestone tessera (mosaic tiles).
Length 107 cm, width 106 cm
This panel was part of a 50 sq m mosaic floor. With a border made up of alternate geometric and floral motifs, the main area of the floor consists of a tracery of four-lobed flowers which combine to form various geometric patterns. When the floor was lifted, several panels were shared between various Tunisian museums. In the panel at the Raqqada Museum, red, white and blue-black lines alternate to represent a lilac-leaf in an octagon and four diamond-shaped petals in a circle. These elements are held within a pattern of twisting semi-circular fringes.
This mosaic is unique in Ifriqiyan art of the Fatimid era. Some historians hold that this example attests to the survival of mosaic art in mediaeval Tunis. The techniques used in the Mahdiyyan mosaic certainly show continuity with the ancient traditions of Roman and Byzantine North Africa. But evidence suggests that the floor was made by Byzantine artisans or 'Rums' who were probably taken prisoner during the many armed incursions by al-Qa'im in Italy and Sicily.
This mosaic is unique in Ifriqiyan art from the Fatimid era, with some art historians believing that it is a continuance of the ancient traditions of Roman and Byzantine Africa. This panel was part of a mosaic covering some 58 square metres, and it combines geometric forms with floral motifs.
The Fatimid prince, al-Qa’im
The mosaic was discovered in 1956 during the excavations under a reception room at al-Qa'im Palace. One could logically date it from the building of the palace in 303 / 916 (date confirmed by historical sources) but it could possibly have been constructed at a later date, when we believe improvements and refurbishments to the original building were made. These would have been accomplished during the relatively peaceful period of al-Qa'im's reign and just before the Kharijite rebellion of 332 / 944 that was led by Abu Yazid, known as the 'man on the donkey'.
After being dismantled at al-Qa'im Palace at Mahdiyya, the mosaic was kept at the Bardo Museum. In 1986 three panels from this mosaic were sent to the National Institute of the Patrimony of Kairouan. In 1993 one of these panels was acquired by the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada for display in the second section, currently being refurbished.
This mosaic, discovered in situ at the al-Qa'im Palace, was obviously built there. But we still cannot prove the origin of the artisans who built it.
Ennaïfer, M., “La mosaïque africaine à la fin de l'antiquité et au début de l'époque médiévale”, Fifth international colloquium on ancient mosaics, USA, 1994, pp.307–18.
Louhichi, A., “La mosaïque de Mahdia: contexte et interprétation”, Africa, XX, 2004, pp.143–66.
Zbiss, S. M., “Mahdia et Sabra Mansouriya: nouveaux documents d'art fatimide d'Occident”, Journal asiatique, CCXLIV, 1956, pp.79–93.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.176–7.
Mourad Rammah "Fragment from a mosaic floor" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;44;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.
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TN 67
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Geometric Decoration | Geometric Decoration in Architecture The Fatimids | Mosque and Palace
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