Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 5th century / AD 11th century
Wood, carved in high relief with incised decorations for some of the details.
Length 33 cm, width 22 cm
A wooden panel with a sloping undecorated frame. The highly decorative subject of the panel itself is carved in high relief, depicting two identical bridled horse heads facing in opposite directions. The horses, which are of a highly stylised arabesque form, are set against a background of vegetal-stem and leaf motifs. The manes and the bridles of the two horses are decorated in low relief. The surface of the panel is ornamented with vegetal motifs in the shape of two branches, which emanate from the middle of the base and extend in two directions, conjoining between the necks of the two horses, hemming in between them beautiful sprouting leaf designs. The two branches then wind their way to the top with foliage decoration in the form of two semi palm-leaf fan designs. The panel clearly manifests the even division of sections on the surface, the harmony of decoration in each section and the detailed symmetry between the two vertical halves of the panel.
It is possible to compare this panel with another, similar, housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It too is carved in wood, adorned by two horse heads facing in opposite directions, and carved in high relief. This piece may have furnished a door, a cupboard, or a wooden screen.
Fatimid artisans were skilled in combining different animal and vegetal elements in their decorative designs. One of their techniques was carving in high and low relief. This wooden panel carved in high relief resembles another housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
This panel was dated based on the detail and skill in the animal and vegetal depictions as decorative motifs, as well as the detail in the carvings of these decorative portrayals, which are extremely naturalistic, and part of an art form, which reached its climax during the Fatimid period. The prolific appearance of the horse with specific traits in the decorative vocabulary of this era also assisted in the dating. At the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo there is a wooden door that dates to the Fatimid period that was discovered in the Maristan of Qalawun, which was originally part of the Western Fatimid Palace. One of the panels from this door is adorned by two horses whose style of carving and decoration closely resembles that used in the execution of the panel discussed here.
This piece was bought by the museum in 1909 from an antiquities dealer, Ilyas Khatoun al-Taji.
The art of wood carving flourished in Islamic Egypt and continued to develop until it reached a high level of skill after the Fatimid Conquest of Egypt in 358 / 969. The style of carving and decoration on this panel closely resembles that used in the decoration of the panels of the Fatimid door whose provenance has been narrowed down to Egypt.
_____________, Trésors fatimides du Caire, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1998.
Grabar, O., “Imperial and Urban Art in Islam: The Subject Matter of Fatimid Art”, Colloque International sur l'histoire du Caire, 1969, Cairo, 1972, pp.173–89.
Hamdi, A., et al, Katalog Ma'rid al-fan al-islāmi fi misr [Catalogue of the Islamic Art Exhibition in Egypt], Cairo, 1969.
Hassan, Z. M., Funun al-Islam [Arts of Islam], Cairo, 1948.
Khadr, M. Y., Tarikh al-Funun al-Islamiyya [History of Islamic Arts], UAE, 2003.
Yasin, Abd al-Nasir, Al-Funun al-Zukhrufiya al-Islamiyya fi Masr mundhu al-Fath al-Arabi hatta Nihayat al-'Asr al-Fatimi: Dirasa Athariya wa Hadariya lil-Ta'thirat al-Wafida [Islamic Decorative Arts in Egypt from the Time of the Arab Conquests to the End of the Fatimid Era: A Study of Emanating Influences on Archaeology and Civilisation], Alexandria, 2002.
Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad "Wooden panel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;eg;Mus01;28;en
Prepared by: Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa HammadAl-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad
He holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities from the Faculty of Art, Cairo University and an MA in the same field from Assiut University. He has been working at the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, since 1974 and attended a training course at Vienna Museum in 1977. He has supervised sections of glass and manuscripts and, currently, coins. At the Museum he has participated in preparing exhibitions at home and abroad and has been a member of several inventory committees. From 1988 to 1999 he worked as a lecturer at Om al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and registered and organised the display of the acquisitions of the Civilisation Museum at the Shari'a and Islamic Studies Faculty at the University.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
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: ET 48
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Fatimids | The Decorative Arts The Normans in Sicily | Christian Sicily and Islamic Figurative Culture: Foundations and Continuity
MWNF GalleriesFurniture and woodwork
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)