Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira, second half of the 3rd century / AD 9th century
Length 8 cm, width 5 cm, height 4 cm
This inkwell is cubic in shape and consists of a central cylindrical pot to take the ink, and hollow areas on each side to take the pens.
Each facet of the inkwell is simply decorated with geometric patterns. In the centre a grooved diamond shape contains four deeply sculpted triangles. The whole is framed by a square, the four corners of which make four more triangles.
On each side of the central pattern a honeycomb effect is achieved by gouging out large numbers of very small triangles.
This decoration recalls that of certain Berber carpets, but it also resembles the brick decoration on ancient doorways at the Great Mosque of Kairouan dating from the AH 3rd / AD 9th century. Since this is the only surviving inkwell from the mediaeval age in Tunis, it is difficult to trace its origin. However, certain inkwells from the Samarkand excavations, which date from the AH 2nd–4th / AD 8th–10th centuries and which are more or less cylindrical, show similarities to the central pot of this Kairouanese inkwell and have similar hollowed-out geometric patterns.
The geometric decoration on this cubic inkwell is reminiscent of some Berber tapestries. The similarity to the brickwork patterns used on the ancient blocked doorways in the Great Mosque of Kairouan is also striking. This inkwell is the only surviving example of its type from Mediaeval Tunisia.
This inkwell comes from the Raqqada site. The city of Raqqada was founded by Prince Ibrahim II in 263 / 876, which gives us a terminus ante quem date for the piece. However, Raqqada remained the capital city of the Aghlabids and then the Fatimids until 308 / 916. The city survived until the mid-5th / 11th century, when it became a purely residential town. This gives us a very broad dating period where precise choice is rendered even more difficult by the absence of published information from the various excavations. But the inkwell's decorative simplicity and its comparability with other contemporary inkwells allow us to place it in the second half of the 3rd / 9th century.
After its discovery during the extensive excavations at Raqqada between 1961 and 1968, the inkwell was kept for many years at the site storehouse. It was acquired by the Raqqada Museum in 1986.
The discovery of this piece on the Raqqada site and its Ifriqiyan decoration would tend to confirm its local origin.
De Kairouan a Carthage (exhibition catalogue), Tunis, 1995, p.65.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.174–6.
Mourad Rammah "Inkwell" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;36;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 59
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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