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A wall panel made of three arches, decorated with cut stone. Each arch is decorated with alternating pointed white, black, and red tiles. Each element has a black tiled border, with the two outer sections filled with a grid pattern, and the two inner sections with geometric six-pointed star patterns.
AKM571, Panel of Three Arches

© The Aga Khan Museum

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On Display
Panel of Three Arches
  • Accession Number:AKM571
  • Place:Egypt, Cairo
  • Dimensions:225 x 49 x 5 cm
  • Date:15th–17th centuries
  • Materials and Technique:marble: polished; coloured stone: inlaid
  • This wall panel in the form of three pairs of spandrels is part of a typical Mamluk domestic interior. It is probably from the dado level, the lower part of the wall in elaborate interiors. Fabricated from multi-coloured cut stones, it is decorated with geometric patterns comprising six-pointed stars. Borders surrounding the three arches are decorated with a pointed arcade pattern. The same pattern can be seen on the eight-lobed steps of the Mamluk fountain in the Aga Khan Museum Collection (see AKM960).

Further Reading

 

It has been proposed that this panel and the Aga Khan Museum fountain both came from a palace dating to the time of the Mamluk sultan Qaytbay (r. 1468–96), and as Carine Juvin observes, the triple-arch design can be seen in some 15th-century Mamluk reception rooms, making this a possible point of origin.[1] One of the existing examples in situ is the Bayt Zainab Khatun (near the al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo), built in 1468 with some later additions in 1713.

 

Mosaics of cut and polished stone became popular in the Mamluk period in Egypt, and were often used as surrounds for fountains, as wall decoration, and as floor pavements. Some of the earliest examples of this type of decoration can be seen in the mausoleum of Qalawun in Cairo, built in 1285: such early versions of the technique are very finely cut and incorporate mother-of-pearl elements alongside different colours of cut stone, creating a rich and glittering surface. A panel of four arches (1432) from the mausoleum of al-Ashraf Barsbay, one of the most important complexes in the Northern Cemetery, also exemplifies this tradition. Now held in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, this panel has a mother-of-pearl inlaid decoration with white, amber, red, and black marble set into plaster.[2] Although less imposing in scale and non-structural in nature, such funerary panels resemble the three-arched panel in the Aga Khan Museum Collection through their use of contrasting colours (ablaq) within the arch, and the six-pointed star motifs within the spandrels.

Mamluk parallels for the knotted motifs can be found in Cairo: in the courtyard floor of the complex of Sultan Hasan, built 1356–63, and in a panel above a doorway in the mosque of Amir Altinbugha al-Maridani, built 1339–40.[3] Further comparisons can also be made with domestic pavements and fountain decorations in palace reception rooms. Stone inlay of this style continued in popularity right through to the Ottoman period. Various Ottoman examples survive, such as in the qa’a (reception room) of the 17th-century house of al-Suhaymi,[4] with arched recesses on the walls facing onto a sunken, scalloped basin in the centre of the courtyard, all faced with polychrome cut and polished stone. Evidently, the forms of decoration which had once been the pinnacle of fashion for funerary monuments of the Mamluk sultans had a long afterlife in domestic settings in Cairo.[5]

 

— Filiz Çakır Phillip


Notes
[1] Sophie Makariou, ed. Chefs-d’oeuvre islamiques de l’Aga Khan Museum (Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2007), 94–95.
[2] See Bernard O’Kane, ed., The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museum of Cairo (Cairo and New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2006), 176; The Panel, Inv. Nr. MIA3075. More panels of this type remain in situ; see Dories Behrens-Abouseif, Cairo of the Mamluks: A History of Architecture and Its Culture (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), 256.
[3] Altinbugha al-Maridani (d. 1353) spent a considerable period as governor of Aleppo, and his familiarity with the decoration of Syrian architecture may also have some weight in that regard. See Bernard O’Kane, "Domestic and Religious Architecture in Cairo: Mutual Influences," The Cairo Heritage. Essays in Honor of Laila Ali Ibrahim, ed. Doris Behrens-Abouseif (Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2000), 165.
[4] See http://www.ne.jp/asahi/arc/ind/2_meisaku/26_suhaymi/suh_eng.htm.
[5] See O’Kane 2000, 149–82.


References
Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. Cairo of the Mamluks: A History of Architecture and Its Culture. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007. ISBN: 9781845115494 
Makariou, Sophie, ed. Chefs-d’oeuvre islamiques de l’Aga Khan Museum. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2007. ISBN: 9782350311326
O’Kane, Bernard. "Domestic and Religious Architecture in Cairo: Mutual Influences," The Cairo Heritage. Essays in Honor of Laila Ali Ibrahim, ed. Doris Behrens-Abouseif. Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2000, 149–82. ISBN: 9789774245688
---, ed. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museum of Cairo, Cairo and New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2006. ISBN: 9789774248603

Note: This online resource is reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. We are committed to improving this information and will revise and update knowledge about this object as it becomes available.

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