Figurative architectural fragment
Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Hegira 7th century / AD 13th century
Carved limestone (low relief).
Height 55 cm, width 96.5 cm, depth 7 cm
Southeastern Anatolia (probably Diyarbakır), Turkey.
An architectural fragment with figures made of limestone and carved in low relief. It is rectangular in shape, with two crowned arches on the bottom side. On the upper section there are various figures in rectangular cartouches. In order, these include symmetrically placed birds, human figures, peacocks, and winged lions (griffins). The birds are shown in profile; their upper parts each have a rosette motif. The human figures each hold a rosette in one hand and an object resembling a ball in the other. They are shown from the front, sitting cross-legged in the traditional Turkic posture of authority. The peacocks, shown in profile, have tails which end in volutes and bodies with rosettes on them. The griffins face each other in a walking stance and have the characteristics of Seljuq lions: their hind feet are on the ground, while one of their front feet is drawn back toward the body at chest level, and the other is extended forward. The upper part of each griffin's body has a wing motif which extends upward from the front leg. Their tails pass between their hind legs to end above the body. Two bird motifs (eagles) are seen at the tops of the arches. The eagles have thick beaks, pointed claws, and short tails; the one on the right is broken at body level.
The arches are like those found in Artuqid architecture, with their crowns of sharp 'teeth' and the spiralling columns that support them. Between them, surrounded by a chain-motif border, is an inscription in naskhi script. The inscription reads, 'May the owner's honour and fortune continue. May God make his life and those of his amirs long'. Below the inscription are two kneeling figures holding spears in their hands and facing each other. Between them is a spiralling column. These figures, which we can identify as the guardians of the Tree of Life, are a symbolic expression rooted in shamanistic beliefs.
The inscription suggests that the object may have come from a tomb or a charitable structure such as a fountain.
Anatolian Seljuq stonework of the AH 6th–7th / AD 12th–13th centuries displays extensive figurative decoration. Human and animal figures assuming symbolic meanings from pre-Islamic faiths are rendered exhibiting central Asian influences both in technique and style.
There is no documentary evidence indicating exactly where the object was produced or found, however, the composition, placement of figures, symbolic meaning, technique and architectural elements, as well as the fact that the craftsmanship exhibits all the characteristics of 7th / 13th century Artuqid work, allow us to date the object to that period.
The object was transferred from Diyarbakır to the Tiled Pavilion (çinili Köşk), Istanbul, in 1898 as part of the 19th-century initiative to collect artworks from across the country. The object was transferred to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in 1941.
Inventory documents indicate that the object was initially brought to the Tiled Pavilion (çinili Köşk), from Diyarbakır. For this reason it is probable that the object was produced in southeastern Anatolia, in Diyarbakır or the region around it.
Glück, H., Diez, E., Die Kunst des Islam, Berlin, 1925, p.236.
Ogan, A., Kühnel, E., İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzelerindeki Şaheserler, Vol. 3: çinili Köşk'te Türk ve İslam Eserleri Koleksiyonu, Berlin-Leipzig, 1938, p.36.
ölçer, N. et al, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul, 2002, pp.103-5.
öney, G., “Artuklu Devrinden Bir Hayat Ağacı Kabartması Hakkında”, Vakıflar Dergisi, VII (1968) Istanbul, pp.117–20.
Gönül Tekeli "Figurative architectural fragment" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tr;Mus01;3;en
Prepared by: Gönül Tekeli
Translation by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions., İnci Türkoğluİnci Türkoğlu
İnci Türkoğlu has been working as a tourist guide and freelance consultant in tourism and publishing since 1993. She was born in Alaşehir, Turkey, in 1967. She graduated from the English Department of Bornova Anatolian High School in 1985 and lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student. She graduated from the Department of Electronic Engineering of the Faculty of Architecture and Engineering, Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, and the professional tourist guide courses of the Ministry of Tourism in 1991. She worked as an engineer for a while. She graduated from the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir, in 1997 with an undergraduate thesis entitled “Byzantine House Architecture in Western Anatolia”. She completed her Master's at the Byzantine Art branch of the same department in 2001 with a thesis entitled “Synagogue Architecture in Turkey from Antiquity to the Present”. She has published on art history and tourism.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TR 05
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Figurative Art | Human Representation
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)