National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 109 / AD 727
Plaster, painted using the secco technique.
Length 5.21 m, width 4.43 m
Syrian Desert, 80 km southwest of Palmyra.
Islamic art began as a continuation of elements from previous periods that were common and well-known in the area. This panel offers a clear example of the influence of Roman myths. It was painted using the secco technique, where the paint is applied only after the plaster is dried and then the plaster is remoistened with a bit of water. This panel covered the floor of the reception hall in the west wing of the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, which is located in the Syrian Desert between Damascus and Palmyra.
The panel is rectangular with a vine-scroll border and allegorical figures. A female portrait within a circular frame dominates the composition. She faces the viewer in a frontal position. Her face is welcoming and in her hands she offers a cloth filled with colourful fruits. She wears a necklace around her neck beneath which a snake coils. Archaeologists consider the woman in this painting to be Gaea, the mother-goddess of Roman mythology who emerges bountifully out of the Earth. The circle surrounding her is defined by two white lines filled-in in red and accentuated by smaller white circles, each containing a bouquet of flowers.
The upper part of the painting shows two “marine centaurs” that are half man and half beast. They are surrounded by foliage and both grasp a spear in their left hand and reach out with their right. In the lower part of the painting there is a group of animals, including two cranes, two foxes, and a dog.
This floor painting belonged in the reception hall, and in the upper section of it there are traces of the round column that stood on top of it.
This fresco painting comes from the Umayyad palace Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi in the deserts of Syria. It displays an image from classical Roman mythology, the earth goddess, Gaea, signifying bounty and fruitfulness. It also indicates artistic and cultural continuity from Late Antiquity to early Islam.
Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. AH 105–25 / AD 724–43)
The floor, along with the rest of the palace complex, was dated according to the inscription on the door lintel of the khan adjoining the palace. The lintel carries the date AH 109 (AD 727) and indicates that the complex was built by Caliph Hisham bin Abd al-Malik.
The floor painting was discovered during the 1936 French excavation of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, which was led by archaeologist Daniel Schlumberger. It was the discovery of this site that led to the development of the Islamic Arts section in the Damascus National Museum. This floor painting, along with the palace's plaster façade which now adorns the museum's entry, were prepared for relocation at the National Museum during the 1940s. The Umayyad wing was formally inaugurated in 1950.
The floor painting was produced in situ at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
Ettinghausen, R., Arab Painting, Lausanne, 1962, p.35.
Grabar, O., Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven, 1987, fig. 88.
Fowden, G., Qusayr 'Amra: Art and the Umayyad Elite in Late Antique Syria, California, 2004, p.71; fig. 22.
Schlumberger, D., “Deux fresques Omeyyades”, Syria, XXV, 1946–8, pp.86–102.
Schlumberger, D., Qasr el-Heir el-Gharbi, Paris, 1986, XIV, plate 35.
Mona al-Moadin "Floor painting" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;1;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: SY 01
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Umayyads | The Formation of Islamic Art The Umayyads | Court Ceremonials and Pastimes
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