A FATIMID CARVED WOOD PANEL, PROBABLY FROM A PORTAL, EGYPT, CAIRO, 11TH CENTURY
carved with mirrored entwined palmette scrolls, featuring a bird at the centre, incised details and punched motifs
47.5 by 12.4cm.
Fragmentary as noticeable to the edges, three drill holes, one with a drill hole chipped, remnants of black material and adhesive marks to edges, remnants of woodworm damage (noticeable to reverse), as viewed.
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NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Acquired in Cairo by Walther Becker (1894-1973), German Ambassador to Egypt 1954-59.
The Shi’a Fatimid dynasty (909-1171 AD) emerged in tenth-century North Africa and quickly spread eastwards into Egypt and Syria. Fustat, considered the political centre of Tulunid Egypt, became an important area for craft industries, notably wood carving (Yalman 2001). This close association between artistic patronage and the royal court was cemented with the commissioning of a palace at Fustat by the Fatimid Caliph al-Aziz bi-Allah (r.975-996 AD).
The following portal fragment is related to a group of panels that would have been originally made for this tenth century palatial complex and would later be reused in a hospice commissioned by the Mamluk Sultan, al-Qalawun (r.1279-90) (Contadini 1998, pp.111-3). The period would see a flourishing of the wood carving industry and designs were based on prior Abbasid and Tulunid forms consisting of a complex repertoire of vegetal and figural motifs that utilised interlacing patterns, foliated intersections and overlapping fields. Surviving Fatimid woodwork is comparatively rare and much of what does survive is due to its re-use in the architectural projects of later dynasties. Most of the city was razed to the ground in 1168 AD on the orders of the Fatimid Vizier, Shawar, to prevent it from falling into the hands of twelfth-century Crusader armies. During the Mamluk period the site of the palace became a hospital in which many friezes were later reused. The area, later abandoned, was a source from which many panels such as this would eventually be excavated throughout the twentieth century (Trésors Fatimides du Caire, Paris, 1998, pp.88-91, nos.1-9).
Similar pieces with regards to style and provenance can be found in several museum collections, notably the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo which has an identical lintel that, due to matching dimensions and design, may have formed the top of this panel (inv.no. 3391) (Pauty 1931, Plate LIX, 8248). A set of six pieces with similar bird motifs can also be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Contadini 1998, pp.111-2). Another well-known piece, carved with two figural horses, can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv.no.11.205.2).