Islamic Marble Pair of Umayyad Capitals
Period: Caliphate period
Dimensions: H: 29 cm D: 34cm H: 28 cm D: 33 cm
German art market, acquired in 1997.
Conditions: The second capital is of the mixed Corinthian order. The two rear volutes are missing and the base of the column is truncated. These changes were certainly made later in order to adapt the piece to a new architectural use. A good restoration from the late 19th or early 20th century consolidated the capital with a bronze tenon. A scroll was duplicated in white marble. The same changes were wrought on the first capital.
The decor of the column is separated into two registers. The base is adorned with short chained stems that form, with the foliage surmounting them, sort of a stylized tapering leaf. Long “chained” stems cover the first register and are surrounded, at their ends, by a characteristic “crowned comma” pattern.
The second register is composed of a crossed lyre-shaped pattern. The volutes are formed by a foliate stem that frames a quadrilobed flower nestled within the spiral. The abacus is covered with a frieze of lozenges and with lines connected one to another. The pattern projects lightly from the mass of the stone and contrasts with the deeply carved lace of the rest of the capital. The stylized treatment of the decor, the abstraction of the Corinthian acanthus leaf, the floral scrolls, the “crowned comma”, and the fourpetaled flower or lyre-shaped patterns enable us to attribute this piece to the Spanish Umayyad architecture, more specifically to that of the great Caliphs of Cordoba from the 10th century (Abd al-Rahman III, 912-961, and his son Al-Hakam II, 961-976). This capital can actually be related to those of Cordoba or of Madinat al-Zahra. The most beautiful capitals of this period are in the palace of Madinat al-Zahra and in the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The importance of these sites, as well as their high concentration of sculptors certainly favored an exchange of the patterns developed in the architecture of these major projects during the 10th century. The use of the four-petaled flower is therefore a typical feature of the capital’s decoration in the Caliphate period. It is also found in the foliage of the bell, of the abacus and in the hollow of the volutes in many architectural works. As for our capital, the use of the ‘crowned comma’ pattern is quite rare. It appears however on a pilaster of the Salon Rico of Madinat al-Zahra (Ars Hispaniae, pp. 79, 81) where a large number of sculptors have worked. Their names are carved in the stone next to the caliph’s name: Bedr, Nasr, Fatah, Aflah, Taric, Mohamed ben Saad, Said Alahmar, Rasic. This privilege indicates the prestige and importance of the site and of its sculptors under the Caliphate of Abd al-Rahman III. The ornaments and architectural models of this Hall must have greatly influenced the construction of palaces and monuments in Madinat al-Zahra, in Cordoba and other cities.
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