Wooden screen in two parts
National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 497 / AD 1104
Poplar; carved and inlaid with bone.
Top: height 0.79 m, width 2.46 m, bottom: height 2.13 m, width 2.46 m
Maydan quarter in southern Damascus.
A wooden screen that represents a masterpiece of woodcarving and which illustrates the “pivotal position” held by Syria in the field of Islamic woodwork. The screen is in two parts. The top, smaller, section of the screen is a wooden rectangular partition with various frames that divide the surface into rectangular fields. One frame is decorated with carved stylised vegetal motifs, its central field carved with the “Basmala” (“in the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful”), executed in geometric kufic script and openwork carving. The upper part of this partition also includes a kufic inscription, carved within a field of leafy vegetal patterns, which may be translated as follows: “Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin al-Hasan bin al-Ali, sincere friend of the Commander of the faithful [the caliph], God accepts this work from him in the months of the year 497 [AD 1103].” The text also includes Qur'anic verses: "Your (real) friends are (no less than) God, His messenger, and the believers, those who establish regular prayers and pay alms and bow down humbly (in worship). As to those who turn (for friendship) to God, His Messenger, and the believers, it is the party of God that must certainly triumph," (5:55-56). On the other side of this panel is the expression “… God is Islam” centrally oriented and executed in kufic script and openwork carving. It indicates the final words of the Qur'anic verses (3:18-19) that are inscribed around the frame. The middle panel is decorated with vegetal motifs that spring from a small carved vase.
The bottom section of the screen is much larger in size than the top. Rectangular and divided into three horizontal sections: the lowest is a row of lathed double columns with rectangular bases and capitals; the middle is a row of lathed single columns with vase-like bases and capitals; the top, a carved screen that is divided into various decorative fields set in polygonal frames consisting of geometric patterns made of carved and pierced pieces of wood and bone inlay.
Furnishings of mosques and holy places are often executed in a highly developed style of woodcarving. This maqsura screen from an AH 5th- / AD 11th-century royal tomb in Damascus, is a prime example of the important role Syria played in the woodcarving tradition.
According to the inscribed date, the screen probably originally belonged to the mausoleum of the Seljuq Sultan Duqaq (r. AH 488–97 / AD 1095–1104), located in the Maydan, southwest of old Damascus. During the Atabeg period, nearly 100 years later, it was reworked and moved to the nearby Musalla al-Idain Mosque, built by Amir Ja'far Muhammad bin al-Hasan bin al-Ali
The year Hegira 497 (AD 1104) it is inscribed on the object.
The object was expropriated by the General Directorate of Antiquities in 1927.
The distinguished archaeologist Michael Meinecke argued that the original location of the screen was next to the mausoleum of the Seljuq Sultan Duqaq (r. 488–97 / 1095–1104), and that it was moved afterwards to the Musalla al-Idayn Mosque, because the mosque was constructed about a century after the date inscribed on the object.
Abu al-Faraj al-Ush, M., A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, 1969, p.206.
Ettinghausen, R., Grabar, O., and Jenkins-Madina, M., Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250, New Haven, 2001, p.254.
Kohlmeyer, K. (ed), Land des Baal, Mainz, 1982, pp.287–8, p.290.
Meinecke, M., Patterns of Stylistic Change in Islamic Architecture: Local Traditions versus Migrating Artists, Hagop Kevorkian Series on Near Eastern Art and Civilization, New York, 1996.
Mona al-Moadin "Wooden screen in two parts" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;21;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 27