National Museum of Aleppo, Islamic Department
Hegira early 6th century / AD 12th century
Height 98 cm (with cover) 126 cm, length 190 cm, width 93.3 cm
Salihin Cemetery, south of old Aleppo, Syria.
This large rectangular profusely decorated stone cenotaph belongs to a type that was widely distributed in Syria and Mesopotamia during the AH 6th / AD 12th century. The shape is reminiscent of a classical sarcophagus with a concave base, a cubic centre composed of two side stones, a front and a back stone, a solid convex lintel and a separate lid on the top (today some of the stones are broken). The decoration consists of a magnificent inscription in foliated kufic script taken from the Qur'anic verse “Ayat al-Kursi” (“Throne Verse”). The verse runs in bands around all four sides of the tomb, only interrupted by the carved vine-stem motif corner blocks. Two weave-like friezes decorate the base and the lintel of the cenotaph. Four small vertical cartouches are centrally located on each side of the cenotaph. These mention the deceased, Husayn b. Hasan al-Shukri, but no date.
The form and decoration of this cenotaph belongs to the theme of classical continuity in stone carving, typical of Northern Syria during the early Zangid period. The intricate inscription has a close counterpart in the epigraphy of the Madrasa al-Shu'aybiyya, dated AH 545 / AD 1150, which is one of the last examples of the use of kufic script in monumental architecture in Syria before it was generally replaced by cursive naskhi and thuluth scripts.
The cenotaph was found in the Cemetery of Salihin, one of the oldest and certainly the most prestigious funerary site in Aleppo. The cemetery lies to the south of the city and extends around Maqam Ibrahim, an ancient shrine containing a sacred rock associated with the Prophet Abraham, and thus an auspicious burial ground. It is now located in the National Museum of Aleppo.
Originally located in the most prestigious cemetery of Aleppo, the Cemetery of Salihin, which has legendary connections with Abraham, this cenotaph is one of the best surviving examples of AH 6th / AD 12th century Syrian stone carving and kufic calligraphy.
Husayn b. Hasan al-Shukri
The cenotaph was dated by stylistic criteria and by comparison with other finds. Another well-known but badly preserved cenotaph of the same type is exhibited in the National Museum of Damascus: the tomb of the Artuqid ruler Balak b. Bahram b. Artuq who fell against the Crusaders near Manbij in 518 / 1124 and was buried in Aleppo (Inv. No. 1051).
The cenotaph was still in situ at the Salihin Cemetery when the area was surveyed by archaeologists Jean Sauvaget and Ernst Herzfeld during the 1930s and 1950s respectively.
Herzfeld, E., Matériaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum: Syrie du Nord, Part 2: Inscriptions et monuments d'Alep, 3 Vols, Cairo, 1954–6, pp.180–2; cat. no. 90; plates LXXII b, LXXIII a, b, LXXIV c.
Sauvaget, J., “Inventaire des Monuments Musulmans de la Ville d'Alep”, Revue des Études Islamiques, V, 1931, p.74 ; cat. no. 13.
Sauvaget, J., “La tombe de l'Ortokide Balak”, Ars Islamica, 5/2, 1938, pp.207–15.
Sauvaget, J., Alep. Essai sur le développement d'une grande ville syrienne des origines au milieu du XIXe siècle, 2 Vols, Paris, 1941, plate. XLVI.
Julia Gonnella "Stone cenotaph" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01_A;49;en
Prepared by: Julia Gonnella
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.
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