Marble and Stucco
Umayyad, circa 950-70 CE
Materials and technique
28 cm in each direction
This composite capital, with two lines of acanthus leaves, represents a brilliant phase of Andalusian architectural sculpture. The model of Corinthian capital, which can be found in numerous Roman ruins in Spain, as well as in later Visigothic interpretations, reaches here a very refined elegance. The general structure of Corinthian capitals is respected, rendered livelier by two rows of deeply carved foliage sprouting in a bee’s nest arrangement and a base of plain stalks where the second row of leaves starts. Over the bead-and-reel band, an equinus, also with a bee’s nest arrangement, is topped by four projecting volutes, demarcated by curling acanthus leaves; on top, there are four dados, also with vegetal motifs. This capital is similar to the ones made for the reception room of 'Abd al-Rahman III in the royal palace at Madinat al-Zahra, six kilometres from Cordoba, which date from between 342 and 345 H (952-953 CE and 956-957 CE), according to inscriptions found on the bases. The same composite type, with two rows of acanthus, have been found there. The beed and reel pattern is also used, as well as the overall sculpture of the set, with rectilinear carving, and identical decoration of the volutes. From the forty capitals which originally crowned the marble columns of the room, before its destruction in the eleventh century, only eleven remain in their original position. Had they been worked from cubic or nearly cubic blocks, the final result would have been very different from what we can see here. From their shape, the capitals from that room are not cubes. Our object relates more to a capital from Segovia dated 349 H/960-961 CE; both capitals are drawn from a perfect 28cm cube. Aesthetically they are very close, although the one shown here shows cleaner craftsmanship, undoubtedly due to its good state of conservation. Composite capitals reappear during the reign of 'Abd al-Rahman III. One from Loja dated 340 H/951-952 CE, represents a good and early example. Another, from the collection of al-Sabah (362 H/972-973 CE, is a bit more decorated than the one here (Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya, LNS 2 S). Thus it is reasonable to date ours between 340 and 362 H (951-952 CE and 972-973 CE). During the fitna (revolution) of 1010 CE and the plundering of Madinat al-Zahra the same year, and later during the collapse of the caliphate of al-Andalus in 1031 CE, objects were disseminated. Even architectural elements were affected; for this reason, many Andalusian capitals were reused elsewhere, even in Italy.
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