- Place of origin:
Cairo (probably, made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
This rectangular wooden panel may have come from the palatial complex of Qalawan, which was constructed in the late thirteenth century on the ruins of the Fatimid Palace of Cairo (originally constructed by the caliph Mustansir in 1058). Carved panels with similar low and high relief patterning have been confidently attributed to the Maristan (hospital) of Qalawum, and were likely used to decorate its ceiling, or the soffit of a lintel; indeed, an architrave where such panels would have fitted existed at the entrance corridor that led to the hospital of the complex.
Fatimid Egypt (969-1171) witnessed a great flourishing of wood carving, with surviving pieces associated with architecture, being friezes, door panels and surface panels and beams, many of which are currently preserved in situ within Coptic churches, mosques and secular buildings in Cairo. While surviving pieces of Islamic woodwork date back to the seventh century, Fatimid examples demonstrate a complex and wide iconographic repertoire of designs, motifs, and figures, building upon previous Abbasid, Coptic and Tulunid styles while exploiting floriated intersections, overlapping fields, and interlace patterns. The rich and layered carvings created by Fatimid wood carvers warranted considerable appreciation, causing pieces to be salvaged and re-utilised in later Ayyubid and Mamluk construction. Today, much Fatimid woodwork survives within the construct of later buildings or furnishings.
Despite wood having existing in abundance in Egypt, much wood during the Fatimid period was believed to have been imported. While the Fatimids supposedly controlled the exploitation of acacia in Upper Egypt, Fatimid woodwork exists in a variety of woods including pine, acacia, cypress, ebony and teak, these reflecting both indigenous as well as imported species. The cost of both importing the wood along with the fine craftsmanship employed, suggests that these panels were a part of a luxury market.
This large wooden panel complements a collection of nine smaller Fatimid panels in the V&A’s collection (785-1896); however, the unusually large size of this panel suggests its use within a larger architectural structure, as opposed to a fitting within a door panel.
V&A Archival Records 901/1884: “Panel of Door. Wood, deeply carved with arabesques and four birds. From Cairo. Saracenic, 10th century.”
Bought (St. Maurice Collⁿ), 2l. 10s
Wooden panel carved in deep relief with a symmetrical design of interlaced scrolling foliage that forms a series of vertically-stacked large roundels, each containing a bird standing in profile. Finer, more densely carved foliate scrolls decorate the remaining spaces. The design is contained within a plain border, and framed underneath glass and within a plain wooden frame.
Place of Origin
Cairo (probably, made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 77 cm Frame, Width: 37.5 cm Frame
Object history note
Bought from the collection of Gaston de Saint-Maurice (1831-1905) in 1884. Saint-Maurice displayed his extensive art collection at the 1878 Paris exhibition, in a gallery entitled L'Egypte des Khalifes. This was part of an official sequence of displays celebrating the history of Egypt, presented by the Egyptian state at this international event. Saint-Maurice held a position at the Khedival court, and had lived in Cairo in 1868-1878. Following the exhibition, Saint-Maurice offered his collection for sale to the South Kensington Museum (today the V&A).
Rectangular shaped, carved wooden panel, Egypt, Fatimid period, 1000-1100
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
‘List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum acquired during the Year 1884’. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1885. p. 85
Bernard O’Kane, ed. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museum of Cairo (The American University of Cairo Press: Cairo & New York, 2006)
Anna Contadini. Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum ( London:V&A Publishing, 1998) pp. 111-112
L.A. Mayer. Islamic Woodcarvers and their Works (Geneva: Albert Kundig, 1958), pp. 14-16
Middle East Section