Horseman of Raqqa
National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 6th century / AD 12th century
Earthenware, polychrome painted.
Height 46.5 cm
Possibly Raqqa region, Syria.
A figurine of a bearded horseman with Asian Turkoman facial features, long braided hair and a helmet. Around the right front hoof of the horse is a snake that is climbing towards the rider from his left. The snake is shown opening its mouth to bite the rider through his armour, but he repels it with his shield. He carries a straight sword lifted into the air, ready to strike. There is a grooved cylindrical column coming out of the stomach of the horse that probably supported the statue, keeping it upright. The horse wears blue reins that are executed in relief. The reins continue around the horse's mouth and hang in front of its neck, then, like a harness, run across the sides of the horse's body down to the lower part of its hind legs.
The object is glazed in off-white and blue and, therefore, can be compared to the laqabi-style ware of Persia, also known to have been produced in Raqqa. Laqabi ware is often seen as luxury bowls and dishes with moulded decorations. Production probably centred on the city of Kashan in Persia. Raised areas were often coloured in bright- blue, yellow, green, purple and pink to differentiate them from the white or off-white background.
Known as the 'Horseman of Raqqa', this masterpiece of Syrian polychrome underglaze sculptural ceramics clearly displays the influence of the Central Asian military elite on artistic taste and local production.
The object is similar to wares produced in Persia during the Seljuq period in the 12th century; a period that saw significant trade activity and migration between Abbasid domains and those of the Seljuq and other Turkoman peoples.
Salim ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Haqq, Director General of Antiquities and Museums in the 1950s, referred to this figurine as the “Horseman of Raqqa” in the Syrian Archaeological Annals. It was found along with two others in a man-made pond during archaeological excavations in Raqqa. The pieces were then sold and taken to Paris where this figurine was deposited in a French bank. In 1949, after negotiations with the French government, the Horseman was returned to Syria and the National Museum of Damascus.
The provenance of this object is difficult to determine because there was substantial trade activity in ceramics between various centres of production and wealthy consumers. Therefore, it is impossible to determine whether it was made in Persia and imported to Raqqa, or made in Raqqa after exposure to wares from Seljuq Persia. Its “Eastern” features and its similarity to the laqabi wares reveals a strong Persian influence in either case.
Abu al-Faraj al-Ush, M., A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus, Damascus, 1969, p.161.
Delpont, E. (ed), L'Orient de Saladin: l'art des Ayyoubides, Paris, 2001, pp.56–8; fig. 53.
Papadopoulo, A., Islam and Muslim Art, New York, 1979, p.429; fig. 413.
Rice, D. T., Islamic Art, London, 1965, p.131; fig. 131.
Watson, O., Ceramics from Islamic Lands, London, 2004, pp.56–9.
Mona al-Moadin "Equestrian figurine" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;30;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (from the Arabic)
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 41
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | War and Horsemanship
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