Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira, mid-4th–mid-5th centuries / AD 10th–11th centuries
Height 11.5 cm, width 11.5 cm, thickness 7.5 cm
The face is that of an apparently fine-featured man but the damage to the nose and mouth is very serious. He wears a turban in the Oriental manner. It reminds us of certain pictures of human figures on pottery of the Samanid era of Nishabour (Iran). The turban is V-shaped and a deep fold extends right across its width. The face is covered with a veil, like several other images of heads from Fatimid Egypt and Umayyad Spain in the AH 4th and 5th / AD 10th and 11th centuries. The man's eyes are quite prominent and seem originally to have been covered by two pieces of glass indicating the irises, like other images found on site at Sabra.
The head's discovery in the Fatimid capital gives weight to the opinion that the Shi'ites, unlike the very iconoclastic Malikites, tolerated human representation in their sculptures.
The discovery of this piece in Sabra al-Mansuriyya, the Fatimid capital, supports the idea that Shi'ite Muslims tolerated sculptures of human forms, unlike the very iconoclastic Malikites. This image is similar to others originating from Spain and Egypt at that time.
This stucco head was found, among other human and animal carvings, in the excavations carried out at Sabra al-Mansuriyya in 1978. It was found in a very ploughed-up area with no clear archaeological layering. The objects were scattered around in a random manner. One has the impression that someone had tried to eradicate or hide these figurative objects for no obvious reason except that there could be a connection with the changing religious mentality in Ifriqiya. This action could indeed coincide with the persecution of the Shi'ites during the troubles in 407 / 1016 or following the split between the Zirid emirate and the Fatimid caliphate in 440 / 1048–9. This date could be a terminus post quem. The terminus ante quem is just after the founding of Sabra in 337 / 948. Any further precision is rendered impossible due to the lack of a definite archaeological layer.
After its discovery at Sabra al-Mansuriyya, this piece was placed in the site storehouse. It was acquired in 1992 by the Museum at Raqqada. It will be displayed in the second section of the Museum, currently under construction.
The manufacture of these objects, which is unique in Ifriqiya and in the Maghreb, appears to have taken place in Sabra al-Mansuriyya and to have been commissioned by the Shi'ites.
Tunisie, terre de rencontres et de civilisation (Seville exhibition catalogue), Tunis, 1992, p.229.
Mourad Rammah "Human head" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01;38;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 61
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Figurative Art | Human Representation The Fatimids | Sartorial Splendour: Tiraz and Contemporary Costume
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)