Section of a marble frieze
Islamic Museum, al-Aqsa Mosque / al-Haram al-Sharif
About hegira 72 / AD 691
Marble (Carrara) carved in high relief.
Length 98 cm, width: 61 cm, depth 3 cm
A section of a marble frieze that was once located along the interior octagonal of the Dome of the Rock. Part of the frieze is still in situ, while sections of it are in the Islamic Museum. In its entirety, the frieze consisted of marble panels, each about 98 cm long and 61 cm wide. The frieze included two decorative themes of tiny swirling palm trees and intertwining grapevines.
The frieze is punctuated with a number of Umayyad kufic epigraphic inscriptions. The decorations are carved to a depth of around 2 cm in order to emphasise the decoration. The background of the marble is painted, while the decoration in relief is gilded. It is probable that the panel under discussion was transferred to the Museum, along with a number of other pieces, during renovation works at the Dome of the Rock in around 1960.
The piece under discussion is a marble panel, at the centre of which is an arch framed with decorative vegetal motifs, which repeat in most of the arches of the frieze. The arch is supported by two pillars on top of which are two capitals. On each side of the arch there are two other arches which are incomplete here, but which continue on neighbouring marble end-panels, used to terminate the frieze. Some of these panels are at the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem.
These panels reflect the Umayyad decorative programme seen also on the woodwork in al-Aqsa Mosque, or on the stucco work in Khirbat al-Mafjar (Hisham's Palace) in Jericho, or even in the decorations which were discovered in the Umayyad Palace on the northwestern coast of Lake Tiberias in the Galilee (Qasr al-Minya).
This decorated and gilded marble frieze once wrapped round the octagonal interior of the Dome of the Rock. A section is still in situ. During the restoration of the Dome of the Rock, some 50 years ago, some of the pieces were transferred to the Islamic Museum. The pieces are rare and represent different artistic sources of Umayyad art.
Caliph 'Abd al-Malik bin Marwan (r. AH 65–86 / AD 685–705)
The date for the panel was established by comparison with similar decorative motifs in the Umayyad palaces of al-Minya and Khirbat al-Mafjar, and with some other Umayyad wooden decorative pieces in the collection at the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem.
The panel was transferred from the Dome of the Rock to the Islamic Museum in around 1960.
Whether this panel was carved in Jerusalem, or imported from Greece or some other locality where finished marble was available, is not known. It is also possible that it was carved in Jerusalem, and that repairs and consolidation of the entire frieze were done in a workshop on site at the Dome of the Rock.
Abu Khalaf, M., “The Carved and Gilded Marble Friezes of the Umayyad Period in the Dome of the Rock”, in A, Bakhit (ed), Fourth International Conference on History of Bilad al-Sahm During the Umayyad Period, Amman, 1989.
Rosen-Ayalon, M., “Note on a Particular Technique of Architectural Decoration”, Israel Exploration Journal, No. 24, 1974.
Nazmi Al-Ju'beh "Section of a marble frieze" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;pa;Mus01;3;en
Prepared by: Nazmi Al-Ju'behNazmi Al-Ju'beh
Nazmi Al-Ju'beh is an archaeologist and historian and Co-Director of RIWAQ, Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah, Palestine. He studied at Birzeit University in Palestine and at Tübingen University in Germany. He taught at Birzeit University and at al-Quds University. He was Director of the Islamic Museum, al-Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem, and directed various cultural heritage projects in Palestine, including surveys of archaeological and architectural sites. He was a major contributor to Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza (Vienna: MWNF, 2004) and is the author of numerous publications on the history, archaeology and cultural heritage of Palestine.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PA 03
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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