Bas-relief in carved marble
Hegira 4th–5th centuries / AD 10th–11th centuries
Length 53 cm, width 35 cm
In the right-hand section of the bas-relief is a seated figure wearing a richly embroidered tunic. The heavy crown on his head defines him as a sovereign or military leader. With his right hand he lifts a cup to his lips. To his right a musician plays the flute. The man's head is covered with a veil and the sleeves of his tunic are decorated with bands containing geometric motifs. His eyes are almond-shaped and very prominent.
This bas-relief is one of those rare gems of Ifriqiyan art representing people and their daily life. The artist is totally unconcerned with anatomical detail. The musician's face does not betray age, type or expression. This work probably has its roots in a very ancient North African tradition. Some art historians hold that the style recalls various funeral stelae which the Romano-Africans dedicated particularly to Saturn and to Caelestis. Common features are the frontal poses, their rigidity, the indifference to spatial considerations and the prominence of the eyes. The similarities of this piece to several carvings in wood and ivory from the Spanish Umayyad, the Egyptian Fatimid and the Eastern Abbasid eras are astonishing, especially the face of the flute player, the costumes and the veils. The crown has been described as Norman by some experts. Similar crowns have been found on ivory panels from Fatimid Egypt and also on Mesopotamian pottery from the same era.
This bas-relief is one of the few Ifriqiyan pieces depicting an animal scene. A person dressed in a rich, embroidered tunic is sat on the right side of the bas-relief. He is wearing a crown on his head, suggesting that he is a king or military leader. To his right, a musician is playing the flute.
The bas-relief was discovered at Mahdiyya, capital of the Fatimids and then of the Zirids during the 4th–5th / 10th–11th centuries, which tends to establish its dating in that era. This is corroborated by the large number of human figures and scenes from daily life produced in Ifriqiya at the same time.
Following its chance discovery at Mahdiyya, the piece was acquired and shown at the Bardo Museum.
The Ifriqiyan origin of the decoration suggests the object was carved in situ re-using an old piece of Italian marble.
Tunisie, terre de rencontres et de civilisation (catalogue de l'exposition de Séville), Tunis, 1992, p.265.
Mahfoudh F., “Entre Mahdiyya et la Sicile: Analyse d'un bas-relief sculpté”, Africa, 20, 2004, pp.5–33.
Marçais, G., “L'art musulman du XIe siècle en Tunisie d'après quelques trouvailles récentes”, Revue de l'art ancien et moderne, XLIV, 1923, pp.161–73.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, p.197.
Yacoub, M., Chefs-d'œuvre du musée du Bardo, Tunis, 1978, pp.230–2.
Mourad Rammah "Bas-relief in carved marble" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tn;Mus01_A;35;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 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: TN 58
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Figurative Art | Human Representation The Fatimids | Pleasures and Celebrations at Court
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