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Work Door leaf from the Jawsaq al-Khaqani palace complex

Department of Islamic Art: The caliphate period (8th-11th centuries)

Vantail de porte du Dar al-Khalifa de Samarra

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Hughes Dubois

Islamic Art
The caliphate period (8th-11th centuries)

This door leaf comes from Samarra, a palatial Iraqi city founded in 836. The deeply carved and beveled decoration was clearly not intended to be realistic; instead, it exemplifies a form of decorative abstraction that developed in the center of the Abbasid Empire during the 9th century and was to have a lasting impact on the evolution of Islamic art.

This door leaf is decorated with three vertical rectangular panels positioned one above the other; they contain designs that were carved in strong relief and deeply beveled—a decorative style typical of Abbasid ornamental carving. Starting from the top of each panel, a fan or peacock-tail pattern with a deeply carved circle on either side ends in a leaf with five lobes, the outer two of which curl over toward the stem.

The door leaf is made of teak wood, a precious material that was imported from India as wood was rare in Iraq. Judging from the stucco carvings and fresco fragments found in Samarra, it must once have been painted in bright colors.

An identical door leaf, now in the Benaki Museum of Athens, formed a pair with the one in the Louvre; both were found reused in a tomb in Tikrit, a few kilometers north of Samarra.

Other decorative elements from Samarra show the same highly stylized designs, derived from floral motifs but treated anti-naturalistically: a marble panel fragment now in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul, and stucco decoration found during excavations at the Dar al-Khalifa palace. The recurrence of these motifs probably gave the palace decoration a strong visual coherence.

The city of Samarra was founded in 836 by the Abbasid caliph al-Mu’tasim (r. 833-842) in a steppe area rich in game; it covered a considerable area over 50 kilometers long, mostly on one bank of the Tigris. At the heart of the city, a vast palace complex called Dar al-Khalifa was reserved for the caliph and his entourage. It was divided into two sections: a public part called Dar al-‘Amma where the caliph held audience, and a private part called the Jawsaq al-Khaqani.

Although we have no means of knowing which part of the palace complex this door leaf came from, its height suggests that the doorway in question was an important one.

 

Bibliography

-    Anglade E.,  Musée du Louvre. Catalogue des boiseries de la section islamique, Paris, 1988, p. 18-20.
-    Dimand M. S., « Studies in Islamic Ornament. I. Some Aspects of Omaiyad and Early ‘Abbasid Ornament’ », Ars Orientalis, vol. IV, 1937, p. 293-337.
-    Northedge A., The Historical Topography of Samarra, Londres, British School of Archaeology in Iraq (Samarra Studies, 1), 2005, p. 134-135, fig. 54.
-    Rante R., « Vantail de porte du Dar al-Khalifa de Samarra », In : Makariou S. (dir.), Les Arts de l’Islam au musée du Louvre, Paris, 2012 (à paraître).

Technical description

  • Door leaf from the Jawsaq al-Khaqani palace complex

  • AA 267

  • Islamic Art

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