Fragment of a mural painting
National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 109 / AD 727
Plaster, using the fresco technique.
Height 41 cm, width 39 cm
Syrian Desert; 80 km southwest of Palmyra.
This fragment belongs to a group of fresco paintings that once adorned the walls of the second floor of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi. It shows the face of a woman in three-quarter profile with a fashionable, delicate shawl wrapped around her head and draping over her shoulders. She wears earrings and the black curls of her hair frame her forehead and cheeks. She is situated amidst a background of geometric and stylised vegetal patterns.
Her features are those of an Arab woman. Archaeologists believe she is a songstress from the palace. Historical sources mention that songstresses were brought from the Hijaz region, in the western Arabian Desert, to sing in the Umayyad palaces of the Syrian Desert.
This Umayyad painting presents distinctly Arab features of female beauty: the big almond-shaped kohl-lined eyes, the whiteness of the eyeball contrasting with the dark pupil, the Bedouin-style earrings and the distinctively draped headscarf.
Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. 105-125 / 724–43)
This object, along with the rest of the palace complex, was dated according to the inscription located on the door lintel of the khan adjoining the palace. The inscription specifies the year AH 109 / AD 727 as the year the building was constructed and the Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik is named as its patron.
This mural fragment was discovered during the 1936 French archaeological excavation of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, which was directed by the archaeologist Daniel Schlumberger. When the entrance façade of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi was prepared for relocation at the National Museum of Damascus during the 1940s, this painting was selected from a large group of paintings and exhibited in the upper level of the relocated section of the palace.
The wall painting was produced in situ at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
Ettinghausen, R., Arab Painting, Lausanne, 1962.
Kohlmeyer, K. (ed), Land des Baal, Mainz, 1982, p.232, p.272.
Schlumberger, D., “Deux fresques Omeyyades”, Syria, XXV, 1946–8, pp.86–102.
Schlumberger, D., Qasr el-Heir el-Gharbi, Paris, 1986, plate 37.
Mona al-Moadin "Fragment of a mural painting" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;3;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 03
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Women | Muslim Women’s Costume and Jewellery
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