Name of Object:

Marble mosaic panel


Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo

Date of Object:

Hegira 9th century / AD 15th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Marble in various colours: white, yellow, red and black, embellished in mother-of-pearl mosaic and placed within a stucco frame.


Height 29.5 cm, length 104 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Cairo, Egypt.


A marble panel composed of four, pointed blind arches formed from white, black, red and yellow marble pieces. The arches are borne by three square piers in the middle and two rectangular piers at either side. Broad white bands frame the three middle piers along the top and sides, while the two side piers are framed in white only along the top and on the underside. The white borders of these piers enclose red areas. The three middle piers enclose areas that are embellished in the centre with two roundels ornamented in white and red. The zones within the arches are filled with geometric decoration consisting of crosses and eight-pointed stars in multicoloured marble and framed in mother-of-pearl. The triangular spaces in between the outer curvature of the arches are filled with polygonal shapes and six-pointed stars which in their turn are divided into small triangular and star-shaped units. Mother-of-pearl is used to decorate the borders of these surfaces and the small triangular units.
Marble panels inlaid with a number of different kinds of stone and mother-of-pearl was one of the basic decorative components used in early Mamluk architecture. It was a basic craft technique, which was used to highlight and give prominence to the mihrab and qibla. This manner of decoration occurred in an outstanding form in the lofty Complex of Sultan Qalawun in Cairo (built AH 683–4 / AD 1284–5), and the tradition continued during the AH 9th / AD 15th century as can be seen in a number of similar examples in Cairo in, for example, the mausoleum and khanqa of Sultan Barsbay, which was part of a complex built in AH 835 / AD 1431 in the northern cemetery of Cairo. The mihrab of this complex contains panels decorated with arches very similar to the arches on this panel.

View Short Description

This polychrome marble plaque embellished with mother-of-pearl bears the basic decorative features of early Mamluk architecture. It was mainly used in mihrabs (niches in the qibla wall). This style is found in numerous monuments such as the mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun.

How date and origin were established:

Marble panels inlaid with a number of different kinds of stone and mother-of-pearl was one of the basic decorative components used in early Mamluk architecture, which remained popular until the late Mamluk period as explained above.
It is, therefore, with certainty that this panel is dated to the latter part of the Mamluk period, a supposition exemplified in the Complex of Sultan Qalawun and in the Mausoleum of Sultan Barsbay.

How Object was obtained:

The panel was donated to the Museum by Brams Najjar, an antiquities dealer in 1903, a period when the Museum was dependent on public donations in order to widen its collection.

How provenance was established:

The marble and mother-of-pearl mosaic technique can be seen in, for example, the Complex of Sultan Qalawun and the mausoleum and khanqa of Sultan Barsbay in Cairo. The panel seen here bears a close resemblance to the panels seen in the mihrab at the Sultan Barsbay Complex.

Selected bibliography:

Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington D.C., 1987.
Grabar, O., “Architecture and Art” in (ed. J. R. Hayes), Genius of Arab Civilization: Sources of Renaissance, London, 1983
Ettinghausen, R., and Grabar, O., Art and Architecture of Islam, London, New York, 1987.
Mustafa, M., Dalīl muthaf al-fan al-islami [Guide to the Museum of Islamic Art], Cairo, 1978.
Stierlin, H., and Stierlin, A. Splendours of the Islamic World: Mamluk Art in Cairo (1250–1517), London, New York, 1997.

Citation of this web page:

Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad "Marble mosaic panel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;eg;Mus01;4;en

Prepared by: Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa HammadAl-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad

He holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities from the Faculty of Art, Cairo University and an MA in the same field from Assiut University. He has been working at the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, since 1974 and attended a training course at Vienna Museum in 1977. He has supervised sections of glass and manuscripts and, currently, coins. At the Museum he has participated in preparing exhibitions at home and abroad and has been a member of several inventory committees. From 1988 to 1999 he worked as a lecturer at Om al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and registered and organised the display of the acquisitions of the Civilisation Museum at the Shari'a and Islamic Studies Faculty at the University.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: ET 07


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