Marble and Stucco
Mamluk, 15th-16th century CE
Materials and technique
Marble and coloured-stone mosaic
Length 2.235 m
This type of mosaic or inlaid stonework seems to have appeared for the first time in the decoration of the mausoleum of Sultan Qala’un, built in 1284-85 CE in Cairo. Throughout the Mamluk period, it was used in religious buildings, such as the Altunbugha al-Maridana mosque (1339 CE) or the mausoleum of Sultan Barsbay (1432 CE), as well as in private residences. It would again become widespread under Ottoman rule in Egypt. This panel and a fountain decoration supposedly come from a palace dating back to Qaitbay’s reign (1468-96 CE). This triple-arch architectural design can be seen in a number of monuments from the end of the Mamluk period. As of the fifteenth century, it would be often used for the loggia or the internal mural design of the maq'ad - the reception room of wealthy Cairo residences. However, the small number of decorations which we have got, with constant recurring geometric designs, offer little in terms of establishing precise dates. The geometric bands knotted at the corners recur in the decoration of a number of buildings, such as the Maridani mosque or that of Emir Husayn ibn Haydarbak al-Rumi (1319-20 CE) in Cairo. The star-within-a-hexagon motif was fairly common and is therefore not a very reliable criterion for affirming specific dates. As for the pointed rectangular elements around the edges of the Gothic arches, they can be observed on a fountain basin which still exists in the Qa'a 'Uthman Katkhuda, in Cairo, dateable from the fifteenth century, as well as on other later designs, such as the one housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum attributed to seventeenth century Syria, or those to be found at the Manzil Suhaymi in Cairo. One finds on that last example the same geometric bands knotted at the corners. This type of highly elaborate and costly design with alluring colour variations had become indispensable in reception halls, for the use of the urban elite. Important people would meet there for parties, lulled by the swish of water fountains and the chanting of musicians.
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