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A reconstruction of a
floor painting with musicians and hunting scene
Umayyad, Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, 727AD
Original Owner: Caliph Hisham bin 'Abd al-Malik (r. AH 105-25 / AD 724-43)
A detail photo of the horse archer on the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi floor painting
Dimensions: Length 5 m, width 4.85 m
Material(s) / Technique(s): Plaster, painted using the secco technique.
Date of the object: Hegira 109 / AD 727
Period / Dynasty: Umayyad
Provenance: Syrian Desert; 80km southwest of Palmyra.
The Umayyad desert palaces show clearly the influence of earlier artistic traditions - both from the Byzantine Empire in the West, and the Sassanid Empire in the East, what is now modern Iran. This painting shows the influence of the art and mythology of the Sassanids. It covered the floor of the reception room in the east wing of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi.
The upper section shows two court minstrels playing musical instruments, a nai (a woodwind instrument) and an oud (a string instrument), beneath a pair of ornamented arches. The lower section portrays a clean-shaven hunter galloping on horseback. The hunter is dressed in Sassanid-style fashion; his head-scarf flying behind him, his bow and arrow are drawn tight for the catch. On the lower right-hand corner is a gazelle, running away while looking back. It is possible that this scene is based on a famous Persian epic, possibly Bahram Gur's Hunting Feats.
Some scholars have deduced that this fresco reflects a choice by the Caliph to re-orient his empire to look East instead of West especially after Muslim attempts to conquer Constantinople failed. Thus the Caliph chose to adopt the Sassanid imperial heritage as a model for the language of power.
This painting lay on the floor of the reception hall, and one can notice in its upper section traces of a round column that stood on top of it.
Held by National Museum of Damascus, Syria. Inv. no. QHG. Reference: Museum with No Frontiers.
Picture source: D. Schlumberger, “Deux fresques omeyyades,” Syria 25, 1946-48, pp. 86-102.
A Khorasanian Horse Archer from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath, based on the Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi floor painting.
Stucco Fragments of a Horse and Rider. Umayyad, Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi, Syria, mid-8th century AD, National Museum, Damascus
8th Century Illustrations of Costume and Soldiers