Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira, 4th–early 5th century / AD 10th–11th century
Diameter 31 cm, thickness 1 cm
This chandelier belongs to a series of eight found in the Great Mosque of Kairouan, and which are dispersed today among four Tunisian museums (Raqqada, the Bardo, Mahdiyya and Monastir).
The punched cast-bronze base is in the form of a tray designed to carry 10 candles, with a flared bronze corona from which 18 evenly spaced upright arms project. These are similar in size and are all decorated with double, spread fleurons. The stylised vine-leaf motif is commonly used in Ifriqiyan art of the 3rd and 4th centuries (9th and 10th), particularly in the mihrab, the minbar and the maqsura of the Great Mosque of Kairouan. Nine of the 18 arms end in circular rings and the other nine have heart–shaped tops. The two types are placed in alternating sequence on the corona. The heart motif is frequently found in Kairouanese bookbinding and features in stylised form on several Fatimid sculptures. The central ring of the chandelier is surrounded by 18 horseshoe arches linking the uprights, giving the overall effect of a festooned rose. The base-tray is suspended by three chains linked to three rings.
The Kairouanese type of chandelier has doubtless been influenced by similar Byzantine designs produced throughout the Islamic period in the Mediterranean region. Muslim craftsmen replaced the Christian cross of the Byzantine and Coptic chandeliers with the tri-lobed fleuron and the geometric motifs dear to their own creed. Prototypes similar to that of Kairouan have been found in Egypt, Syria and especially in Spain. This Spanish ancestry arouses speculation that Western Islam may have had its own school of bronze-smiths.
Interestingly, this technique appears to have been taken up by Spanish Christians, since there is a similar chandelier from a Spanish church at the British Museum in London.
Inspired by Byzantine art, this piece was one of a group of eight used in the Great Mosque of Kairouan. The Muslim artist has replaced the cross in Byzantine and Coptic chandeliers with a trilobed fleuron and some geometric motifs consistent with the Islamic creed.
The seven other chandeliers with which this one was kept probably date from before the Hilalian invasions of 449 / 1057. There are stylistic similarities to chandeliers from Egypt, Syria and Spain dating from the 4th / 10th century.
This chandelier was displayed from 1956 at the museum of the Great Mosque of Kairouan before its acquisition by the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada in 1986.
This chandelier was part of the furniture of the Great Mosque of Kairouan. Along with seven other pieces, it was kept as a relic in the old library of the Great Mosque. They all date from before the Hilalian invasions in 449 / 1057. Furthermore, it can be compared to other pieces from Egypt, Syria and particularly from Elvira in Spain. Archaeological digs at the ruins of the Great Mosque in this town have revealed a chandelier dating from the 4th / 10th century whose overall design and internal rosette of horseshoe arches bear a striking resemblance to the Kairouanese chandelier. This convincing evidence unmistakably dates the Kairouanese chandelier from the same period.
De Carthage a Kairouan (exhibition catalogue), Paris, 1982, p.219.
Marcais, G. and Poinssot, L., Objets Kairouanais, XI, fasc. 2, Tunis, 1952, pp.450–51, fig. 10.
Omeyas (exhibition catalogue), Granada, 2001, p.54.
The Arts of Islam (exhibition catalogue), London, 1976, p.169, plate no. 177
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.159–62.
Mourad Rammah "Circular chandelier" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;14;en
Prepared by: Mourad RammahMourad Rammah
Né en 1953 à Kairouan, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mourad Rammah est le conservateur de la médina de Kairouan. Lauréat du prix Agha Khan d'architecture, il publie divers articles sur l'histoire de l'archéologie médiévale islamique en Tunisie et participe à différentes expositions sur l'architecture islamique. De 1982 à 1994, il est en charge du département de muséographie du Centre des arts et des civilisations islamiques. Mourad Rammah est également directeur du Centre des manuscrits de Kairouan.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TN 22
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