Qantara Qantara

Spout of a fountain in the form of a stag

  • Title/name : Spout of a fountain in the form of a stag
  • Production place : Probably Madinat al-Zahra, Spain
  • Date / period : Second half of the 10th century
  • Materials and techniques : Cast bronze; chiselled ornamentation
  • Dimensions : H. 61, 6 cm
  • Conservation town : Córdoba
  • Conservation place : Museo Arqueológico y Etnológico
  • Inventory number : Inv. 500

It has been reported that this spout of a fountain or basin was first discovered on the Madinat al-Zahra site in the 16th century and that it then passed on to the neighbouring San Jerónimo de Valparaíso Monastery. Parts of the monastery were built with stones that came from the Madinat al-Zahra site—destroyed in the beginning of the 11th century. Ambrosio de Morales recounts the discovery in ‘Old Córdoba’ of what he describes as a white marble basin made of two pieces of brass: a delicately worked stag and deer, “just slightly smaller than a kid goat”. The stag and the basin were kept in conservation at the Monasterio de San Jerónimo; the little stag then became part of the collection of the Comisión de Monumentos when the holdings of the clergy were seized in 1868; and finally, in 1905, it entered the collection of the Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba. If we are to believe the chronicler al-Maqqarî (1577-1632), it was once part of a group of twelve animal sculptures that flanked the basins of Madinat al-Zahra[1].

A sculpture in relief, the animal stands on a hollow base connected to a cylindrical tube for the water to pass through and spurt out of its mouth. Its horns have disappeared and only the holes where they once were remain. The animal’s body is covered with twisting stems that enclose veined leaves made in light relief and the chest is decorated with a large rosette. We will also notice the almond-shaped eye, which we see on other objects of this type.

The use of animal figures for decorative purposes was frequent during the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba (929-1031), on all manner of objects (textiles, ivories, ceramics, decorative fountains in relief, etc.), all objects designed for private dwellings. The refinement of this piece as much as its usage and embellishment point to the sumptuous conditions that marked the period, a period characterised by a pronounced taste for everything Oriental. This famous piece is considered to be one of the showpieces of the palatial workshops that specialized in dinanderie (brass alloys of silvery tint). Several studies have compared this sculpture to other metal works of animals, in particular to another stag of Cordoban provenance in preservation in Madrid[2] but which departs from the one belonging to Museo Arqueológico y Etnológico on some counts. A deer, considered to have also come from Madinat al-Zahra, can be seen at the National Museum of Qatar[3].

Other metal objects with comparable ornamentation include such examples as the peacock aquamanile (liturgical ewer) of al-Andalus at the Louvre in Paris, dated 972, the aquamanilia in the Furusiyya collections and those at the Pinacothèque de Cagliari[4]. This art would continue to flourish in the region, such as a lion with extended tail from the 12th century testifies[5], as well as certain zoomorphic sculptures in metal that passed over into Christian lands—although the circumstances remain unclear—such as the griffon that decorates the Pisa Cathedral[6].

The art of sculptures in metal was imported from the Middle East to al-Andalus; from there, it continued to influence medieval productions throughout Europe[7]. Islamic art also notably influenced the zoomorphic aquamanilia manufactured in the Christian west during the Middle Ages[8].


[1] Cf. Les Andalousies. De Damas à Cordoue, 2000, p. 114-115

[2] Madrid, Museo Arqueológico Nacional, inv. 500

[3] Qatar, National Museum, s.n.

[4] Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. MR1569; Vaduz, Fondation Furusiyya, s.n.; Cagliari, Pinacothèque, inv. 1445.

[5] Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv.  OA 7883.

[6] Pisa,  Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

[7] Cf. Les Andalousies. De Damas à Cordoue, 2000, p. 34.

[8] Cf. the example of the aquamanile in cuerda seca manufactured in Spain in the 16th century (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. OA 6326).


Baena Alcántara, M. D., « Cervatillo. Surtidor de fuente », in El Esplendor de los Omeyas Cordobeses, (cat. exp., Madinat al-Zahra, 2001), Grenade: Fundación El Legado Andalusí, 2001, p. 190-191.

Gómez-Moreno, M., El arte árabe español hasta los almohades, Madrid: Ed. Plus Ultra, 1951, « Ars Hispaniae », vol. 3, p. 331, fig. 396.

Robinson, C.,« Ciervo de Córdoba », in Al-Andalus: las artes islámicas en España, (cat. exp., Grenade, Alhambra/New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), Madrid : Ed. El Viso, 1992, p. 210-211, n° 10.

Les Andalousies. De Damas à Cordoue, (cat. exp., Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 2000) Paris : Institut du monde arabe/Hazan, 2000, p. 114, n° 90.

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