Lower half of a sculpturesque high relief
National Museum of Damascus
Hegira about 109 / AD 727
Height 1.06 m, width 0.9 m
Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi; 80 km southwest of Palmyra.
This is one of a prominent group of sculpturesque high-relief representing human figures, animals, and vegetal motifs found in Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi. It consists of the lower half of a man sitting on a throne with his feet on a small stool. The stool is in the shape of a colonnaded portico that is supported by seven arches that rest on pairs of pillars. While other statues in the palace appear to be based on Sassanid prototypes, some prominent historians have also linked this figure with those at Qusayr Amra, which show clear Byzantine or Mediterranean influences.
There is speculation that the figure represents Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik who commissioned the building of the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi complex. This is based on the fact that the statue exhibits luxurious clothing with traces of red, green and brown paint. The building under his feet symbolises his power and the extent of his rule. It is clearly intended to emphasise the glory and majesty of the ruler.
Sculptures in stucco are part of the pre-Islamic Iraqi, Iranian and Central Asian tradition. Extremely high-relief pieces such as this, or even stand-alone sculptures in the round, are a new development in this tradition, although they can be compared to the relief sculptures found in Palmyrene tombs of ancient Syria.
This sculpture was located on the second floor of the palace, along the interior façade that overlooks the courtyard colonnade.
Although fragmentary, this figurative carving in high-relief may have represented the Umayyad Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik dressed in Persian-inspired royal garb and sitting on his throne.
Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. AH 105–25 / AD 724–43)
This object, along with the rest of the palace complex, was dated according to the inscription on the lintel of the door of the khan adjoining the palace, which carries the date 109 (727).
The object was found during the archaeological excavation of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi completed by the French Expedition of 1936 under the direction of Daniel Schlumberger.
The object was found and probably carved in situ at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
Ettinghausen, R., Grabar, O., and Jenkins-Madina, M., Islamic Art and
Architecture 650–1250, New Haven, 2001, p.44; fig. 52.
Grabar, O., Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven, 1987, fig. 80.
Schlumberger, D., Qasr el-Heir el-Gharbi, Paris, 1986.
Mona al-Moadin "Lower half of a sculpturesque high relief" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;sy;Mus01;5;en
Prepared by: Mona Al-Moadin
Translation by: Hilary Kalmbach (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 09
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Umayyads | Administrative Reforms
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