Harem wall painting fragments

Samarra, Iraq, 9th century AD

These fragments of wall-paintings from the harem baths at Jawsaq al-Khaqani provide a glimpse of important early examples of figurative art in the Islamic world.

These fragments of wall-paintings from the harem baths at Jawsaq al-Khaqani provide a glimpse of important early examples of figurative art in the Islamic world.

The two figures, displayed on these wall painting fragments, are probably slave girls from the harem of Caliph al-Muasim in Samarra, where the walls of the palaces were painted with large scenes of hunters, dancers, and drinkers. The palaces were also decorated with carved wooden panels and stucco (plaster).

The women of the palace were not just wives and concubines but were also poets and musicians. Harem girls were often highly trained in singing, music and literature and it was potentially an attractive career for a woman of humble origins.

Samarra was built in AD 836 as the new capital of the Islamic Empire. At the time it was one of the largest cities in the world, sprawling some 25 miles along the banks of the river Tigris.

Samarra’s name comes from the Arabic for 'Happy he who sees it' and it was created to house the court of Caliph al-Muasim (reigned AD 833-42) and army of Turkish slavesoldiers, after they increasingly came into conflict with the inhabitants of Baghdad.

The site includes palaces and mosques, built on an unprecedented scale, and also a large race-course. Many of the palaces are built right on the waterside, with steps leading down to an artificial water basin.

In AD 861 Samarra was abandoned. The city's decline mirrors that of the Islamic Empire, which became increasingly fragmented from AD 800 onwards.


Islamic Middle East

Video

The Islamic lands have encompassed at different times Spain to the west and as far as the Malay world and China to the east.

Islamic Middle East world culture


Find in the collection online


More information

Bibliography

R. Ettinghausen and O.Grabar, The art and architecture of Is (Pelican History of Art, 1987)

H. Stierlin, Islam: early architecture from (Koln, Taschen, 1996)

B. Brend, Islamic art (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

Dimensions

Height: 14.1 cm
Width: 10.2 cm
Depth: 3 cm
Height: 11 cm
Width: 10.5 cm
Depth: 2.7 cm

 

Museum number

ME OA+.10620 OA+.10621 OA+.10622 OA +10618 OA +10619

RRM6307;RRM6308

 

Excavated by Emst Herzfeld and Friedrich Sarre

Location

Find in the collection online

52.

Harem wall painting fragments

Listen now

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series



Related objects


This object features in A History of the World in 100 objects


Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore