Ceramic tile panel
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 12th century / AD 18th century
The craftsman may have been the Tunisian, al-Hajj Mas’ud al-Sab’a.
Ceramic with overglaze decoration.
Height 80 cm, width 32 cm
Probably of the Tunisian, al-Hajj Mas’ud al-Sab’a School.
A panel of ten ceramic tiles, a product of the Maghrebi School of ceramists who travelled to Egypt and settled in coastal cities such as Alexandria, Rashid (Rosetta) and Damietta. The piece is decorated with overglaze paintings in blue, yellow and green. In the lower portion of the panel there is the shape of a pair of feet coloured in blue, above which are architectural forms, made up of a group of small domes, and other decorative elements in the Ottoman style. Towering over them is a single large semi-circular dome. It is flanked on either side by the forms of pencil-shaped minarets in the Ottoman style. The dome is framed at the top by a lobed arch, whose pinnacle is crowned by a crescent-shaped motif. It is possible that the feet and the architectural forms symbolise the Mi'raj where the Prophet Muhammad ascended the heavens accompanied by the Angel Gabriel from the site of al-Haram al-Sharif in the sacred precinct of Jerusalem. It was there that he met the prophets and the number of mandatory prayers for all Muslims were ordained to be five daily.
It is known that the ceramists of the Maghrebi School migrated to Egypt in the second half of the AH 12th / AD 18th century and settled in coastal cities, producing wares that were influenced by the styles and techniques used in the ceramic workshops of the Maghreb and al-Andalus. This might explain the widespread use of the term, Zilizli, which is used by the inhabitants of Rashid (Rosetta) for ceramic tiles, as it is derived from the word, zillij meaning ceramic tiles in colloquial Maghrebi Arabic. Among the most famous of the Tunisian ceramists who migrated to Egypt and settled in Alexandria was al-Hajj Mas'ud al-Sab'a whose signature is found, along with an inscription: 'The work of the master al-Sab'a', on the ceramic tiles that embellish the Dar Jalluli in Tunisia. This ceramist also established a distinguished school in Egypt in the AH 12th / AD 18th century. A number of his ceramics were utilised in the decoration of some contemporary buildings in Alexandria and Cairo.
Artisans moved freely from one country to another in the Islamic world. Artisans from Mosul came to Egypt after the Mogul invasion of Baghdad. Maghrebi ceramic artisans, likewise, brought their style influenced by the Andalusian style. This ceramic tile panel follows the Tunisian school.
Some of the most prominent ceramics produced by al-Hajj Mas'ud al-Sab'a is the tile-panelling that embellishes the Mosque of Abd al-Baqi Georgi (Chorbagi) in Alexandria, (built 1171 / 1757). His name, which is incorporated into the tilework, includes the words, 'work of the master al-Sab'a'. This extensive tile panelling, which covers both the walls of the mosque and the mihrab, consists of ceramic tiles in the Maghrebi style. In the decorative scheme, the base of the composition comprises vases from which flowers, stems or depictions of buildings and architectural components emerge; domed buildings and minarets in the Ottoman style, as well as crescent shapes, which complete the decoration at the top of the composition. The architectural and vegetal decoration in the tiling of the Mosque of Abd al-Baqi Georgi resembles to a large extent the decorative scheme of the tiles we are discussing here. In view of the great similarity in style, the similarity of decorative components, and the fact that the signature of the craftsman is on the tiles of the Mosque of Abd al-Baqi Georgi, we may deduce that these tiles are his work, or at the very least, of his school.
It was housed in the museum as part of the waqf of Prince Yusuf Kamal in the year 1923. Prince Yusuf was a prince of the Muhammad 'Ali family and he donated a large collection of his acquisitions especially jewellery, textiles, ceramic and wooden pieces to the museum.
It is highly probable that this tile panel is the work of al-Hajj Mas'ud al-Sab'a. That he was prolific in Alexandria, Egypt, is verified by the presence of his work in the Mosque of Abd al-Baqi Georgi (Chorbagi).
Al-A'raj, Abd al-Aziz M., Al-Zalij fi al-'Emara al-Islamiya bi al–Jaza'ir fi al-'asr al-Turki [Ceramics in Islamic Architecture in Algeria during the Turkish Period], m/s, University of Cairo, 1982.
Atil, E., Ceramics from the World of Islam, Washington D.C., 1973.
Khalifa, R. H., Funun al-Qahira fi al-'Ahd al-Othmani [Arts of Cairo in the Ottoman Era], Cairo, 1984.
Porter, V., Islamic Tiles, New York, 1995.
Salah Sayour "Ceramic tile panel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;32;en
Prepared by: Salah SayourSalah Sayour
Salah Ahmad Sayour holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University (1973) and is currently studying for an MA in the same field. In 1979 he had a four-month scholarship at Austrian museums to study museology. Preparing exhibitions for the Museum of Islamic Art's collections in the Arab World Institute, Paris and curating exhibitions held in host museums in the USA and Paris augmented his experience leading to his appointment as head of several sections at the Museum. He has written several articles on Islamic painting and arts for Prism Magazine published by the Ministry in different languages and has participated in preparing scientific texts for the catalogues for the Museum's exhibitions at home and abroad.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 57
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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