Fragment of a fresco panel
National Museum of Damascus
Hegira 6th–7th century / AD 12th–13th century
Plaster and coloured mineral and metallic pieces applied using the fresco technique upon a coating of stucco, over a layer of thick clay.
Height 62 cm, width 93 cm
The Church of the Monastery of St Jacob (Deir Mar Yakub) in Qara, located 97 km north of Damascus and 15 km east of the Nebek.
The Ayyubid period was known for the architectural and artistic revival in the Bilad Al-Sham, not only in the Islamic cities but for the Christians in the region as well. This object is a section from a panel that once decorated the apse of the altar of the Church of the Monastery of Mar Yakub (St Jacob), which lies close to the village of Qara, located near the village of Salihiyya to the north of Damascus. The panel portrays a winged angel whose head is surrounded by a halo of light. His hair is long and his head is tied with a fillet. He wears white clothing and lifts his right hand in benediction, while holding a rope in his left hand. His gaze reflects piety and faith. The panel was executed in varying shades of brown and grey in addition to red, blue and green.
Art historians note that the iconographic facial features are those of the Archangel Michael, one of the highest and most important of the angels. Indeed, the folds of the garments, the features of the face and the style of shading conform very closely to depictions on the third-layer paintings of the Monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi (St Moses, the Ethiopian) which lies nearby and flourished contemporaneously. It is as if this region had its own distinctive artistic school. This panel, as well as the remaining ones in the Monastery of Mar Yakub, have great importance in the history of local Christian art which goes back to the Middle Ages, especially as so few artefacts or monuments from this period in Christian history remain. They reflect the artistic traditions of the local Christian community as well as the existence of Byzantine influences. They also provide visual evidence that Christians continued to practice their beliefs and express their faith under the Islamic state.
Wall painting in local Christian monasteries underwent an artistic renaissance during the Ayyubid period. This fragment of a fresco, possibly depicting the Archangel Michael, comes from the Deir Mar Ya'qub monastery in the village of Qara located some 100 km north of Damascus.
The fresco was dated by comparison of both the techniques used – materials, colours, method – as well as the stylistic elements present on the panel, which reveal strong parallels with other depictions present in the region, extending from the north to the south of Syria, including Lebanon. It may be noted that this piece dates to the Ayyubid period (6th / 12th century) a period of innovative artistic works in churches and monasteries.
Notice was given by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums that the fresco panels in the Church of Deir Mar Yakub were in need of restoration. Two sections of the panels were disintegrating and were brought to the National Museum to be restored. At the time, the Directorate decided it would be best to keep them conserved in the Museum. They were thus registered in 1993.
The fresco was taken from the church apse in the Monastery of Deir Mar Yakub. The monastery is located in the village of Qara, in the Qalmun Mountains in the outskirts of Damascus, which indicates the general source. The National Museum in Damascus has recorded this operation.
'Afif, B., “Antiquities of Syria”, National Mail for Journalism and Publication, Austria, 1985, p.2041.
Habib, Z., Al-Dayarat al-Nasraniya fi al-Islam [Christian Monasteries in Islam], Beirut, 1999, p.3.
Dina Bakkour, Mona al-Moadin "Fragment of a fresco panel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;45;en
Prepared by: Dina BakkourDina Bakkour
Dina Bakkour is an archaeologist. She studied archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology and Museums in Damascus and General History at the University of Damascus. She received her Master's (DEA) in Islamic archaeology from the ParisI Sorbonne University, where she is currently preparing her Ph.D. thesis. She holds a Master's in Museology from the Ecole Du Louvre in Paris. Dina followed many stages in conservation and restoration in Rome, Murcia and Amsterdam. Nowadays, she works in the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus. She participated in many national and European excavations and restoration in Syria and taught at the Institute of Archaeology and Museum in Damascus. She was a contributor to The Restorations of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi. Nabek-Syria (Damascus: Syrian Ministry of Culture; Rome: Central Institute for Restoration)., Mona Al-Moadin
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: SY 77
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Religious Life The Umayyads | Christian Subjects under Umayyad Rule
MWNF GalleriesWall paintings and frescoes
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