Qantara Qantara

Maqsūra of al-Mu ‘izz

  • Title/name : Maqsūra of al-Mu ‘izz
  • Production place : Kairouan, Tunisia
  • Date / period : First half of eleventh century, restored in seventeenth century
  • Materials and techniques : Cedar wood, carved decoration
  • Dimensions : L. 8 m, D. 6 m, H. 2.80 m
  • Conservation town : Kairouan
  • Conservation place : Great Mosque of Kairouan
  • Inscription :

    - On three sides of the maqsūra, in Kufic letters whose uprights end in fleurons: “Basmala. May God spread His blessing on the Prophet Muhammad, his family and grant them salvation. This is one of the things Abū Tamīm al-mu izz, son of Bādīs, son of al-Mansur may God’s salvation, blessings and abundant mercy be upon him so as to obtain God’s generous reward and magnificent retributions, for God does not leave the work of those who do good without wages. Ordered the construction by Zimām al-dawla Abū al-Qāsim, son of Abū Abbūd, al- Kātib. Everything that is in the heavens and on the earth proclaims the praise of God, the Holy, the Mighty, the Wise. It is He who sent a Messenger from among illiterate men to them to recite his verses, purify them and teach them the book and the wisdom, whereas before they were in obvious error. There are others among them who have not joined them [in faith]. God is mighty and wise. Such is the bounty of God, which He bestows on whom He will; God is the Lord of the highest bounty. The similitude of those who were charged with the Mosaic Law but who subsequently failed in those obligations is that of a donkey which carries huge tomes. Evil is the similitude of people who falsify the signs of God and God guides not people who do wrong.”

     - On a painted wooden panel, written in Maghrebian script: “Praise to God. The Turk Topal Mustafa, son of ‘AbdAllāh, ordered the repair of this maqsūra in Rabi I 1024 (12 Dec. 162410 Jan. 1625). May God grant his father pardon!

This gem of the art of woodwork is the oldest maqsūra preserved in situ in the Islamic world[1]. Placed near the minbar, this enclosure was meant for the prince and his dignitaries; it allowed them to attend Friday prayers without mingling with the crowd and risking their lives. The maqsūra could also be used for political and religious meetings. Surrounded on three sides by a cedar wood enclosure with geometric decoration, it communicates with the exterior via a door – known as the ‘Sultan’s door” – in the qibla wall. The main decoration of the maqsūra is the frieze that crowns it. It is surmounted by a line of pointed openwork merlons. The frieze bears an inscription in flowery Kufic script that is considered to be one of the finest specimens of an epigraphic string-course ever created in Islamic art.

The inscription is regularly executed and forms a harmonious composition with great palaeographic variety. The epigraphic field is filled with interlacing vegetal patterns and the letters are bevelled at their tips or end in braids of great aesthetic quality. The cabinetmaker flaunted his know-how and art while at the same displaying great freedom of style in the decoration. This flowery Kufic script, which saw the light in the East in the late tenth century, spread and developed into Egypt during the Fatimid era[2] but never achieved the refinement and beauty of the frieze of this maqsūra. The floral ornamentation and motifs are suggestive of Fatimid art in Egypt, which continued the Abbasid tradition while making greater use of the effects created by the overlapping of many fields and interlaces[3].

All the openwork panels with motifs of beads and whirls that surround the maqsūra seem to date from that epoch. They may be compared to the decoration of the maqsūra built by the Hafsid caliph Abū Omar Othman in the Zitouna Mosque (Tunis, 1256). Thistype de wood carving is of Hispano-Moresque origin and was practiced in Tunisia up until the Ottoman period.

From the maqsūra a studded door dating no doubt from the Zirid era leads into the hall of the imām. It is framed by a lintel and by ancient abutments made of reused marble that are adorned with a frieze of floral decoration. The window of the imām’s hall features a surprising decoration: two columns support a pronouncedly horseshoe shaped semicircular arch surmounted by a series of gemel arcades crowned with jagged merlons. The resemblance with the mihrāb of the Great Mosque of Cordoba (966) is striking. Certain art historians, convinced that the Kairouan decoration is the earlier of the two, saw in it the architectural origin of the model of Andalusian mihrābs. Contrary to the thesis of A. Lézine[4], this element of the decoration probably does not come from the mihrāb of the mosque of Yazid Ibn Hatem of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, but its origin and function remain enigmatic.

NOTE

[1] Previous eras produced many maqsūras, including the one made of poplar wood in the name of Emir Ja’far al-Hasanī dated 1104, from the Musallâ al-‘Jalayn mosque in Damascus, Damascus, National Museum, inv. A 97.

[2] Door ordered by the Fatimid Caliph al-Hâkim for his mosque, wood, Egypt, 1010, Cairo Museum of Islamic Art;  wooden mihrâb from the mosque of Sayyida Nafissa, Egypt, Cairo, 1145-1146, Cairo Museum of Islamic Art, inv. 421.

[3] Mihrāb of the mosque of  Sayyida Nafissa (1145-1146) and mausoleum of  Sayyida Ruqayya (1154-1160), wood, Cairo Museum of Islamic Art; wooden panels from Fatimid ceiling and door, Egypt, eleventh century, Cairo Museum of Islamic Art, inv. 441; 3390; 14601.  

[4] Lézine, A. 1966, p. 19.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE ITEM

Golvin, L., Essai sur l’architecture religieuse musulmane, t. 1, Paris, 1970, Klincksieck, p. 233

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lézine A., Architecture de l'Ifriqiya, Recherches sur les monuments aghlabides, Paris, 1966, Klinksieck

Trésors fâtimides du Caire, (cat. exp., Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 1998), Paris, 1998, SDZ, p. 90-91, 149-152



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