V Rare Pair Mamluk 400+ Year Old Egypt Islamic Carved Minbar Mihrab Wood Beams
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V Rare Pair Mamluk 400+ Year Old Egypt Islamic Carved Minbar Mihrab Wood Beams:
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Stunning PAIR Mamluk Carved Beams Calligraphic Panels 400+ years old Islamic
Possibly part of a large Minbar c1400-1600 Egypt or Palestine
We are very pleased to offer this exceptionally rare and highly desirable LARGE pair of early Islamic wooden beams, carved with intricate Arabic inscriptions.
These wonderful and exquisitely carved calligraphic beams come with a strong provenance and are guaranteed to be at least 400 years old.
They would have originally been made for a masjid as part of a mihrab, minbar or a low ceiling.
Please read all the information provided and ask any questions that you wish.
The two pieces on offer are long beams of a native wood most likely the Cedar tree (Cedrus libani) which was readily available and was widely used due to it's strength and length (please see section on “Material” below).
This type of beam was used in a border on a minbar or mihrab and hence the narrow height of each piece. Similar beams were used in ceilings but would have been taller in height so that the inscription could be read from the floor.
“Carved, inlaid or painted wood and stone are essential elements of Mamluk architectural decoration...Carved wood cenotaphs, mihrabs, minbars, screens, doors and shutters were already employed in Ayyuoffer structures dating from the first half of the thirteenth century...Mamluk woodworkers continued this tradition” (Atil, 1981).
Each length of beam is covered with beautiful, deeply carved Arabic inscription with foliage entwined between the letters. On close inspection, one can observe traces of red paint deep in the recesses of the carved calligraphy.
The script is not of the early angular Kufic style nor are the letters elongated as found in the later Nakshi style. There are no diacritic dots or accents which became commonplace in the later period (Blair, 1998).
“One of the most distinctive features, however, of Mamluk woodwork and indeed of Mamluk decorative arts is the replacement of Kufic script by a bold variant of the cursive Nakshi script known as Thuluth” (Scarce, 1976).
At each end of the beam, you can see how the carved beams were designed to fit sectionally. All other sides of these beams are plain and undecorated as this is where they fixed into a larger structure, either the minbar or a main structure of a mihrab. This is further evidenced by the 90 degree cut out section (groove) along the bottom of this piece where it would attach to the minbar or mihrab.
It is also of interest to note that there are 'x' shaped motifs at the beginning/end of the calligraphic sections. These are 'cartouches' or 'frames' around a complete calligraphic panel and are found in Fatimid wood carving (Catalogue entries 442 & 449, both described as 'Fatimid Egypt' in Scarce, 1976).
The British Museum has an Ayyuoffer period wooden panel with very similar 'x' shape border cartouches enclosing kufic calligraphy (British Museum Number: 1905,0603.23). It is interesting to note that the British Museum purchased this Ayyuoffer wooden panel from Panayotis Kyticas who was a Cairo based antiquities dealer (prior to 1924) and the previous owner of this piece Ferdinand Adda (see “Provenance” section below) also purchased antiquities from Panayotis Kyticas.
On close inspection, one can observe traces of red paint deep in the recesses of the carved calligraphy. Numerous early examples of Islamic carved wood panels and beams have traces of red (and other coloured) paint as demonstrated by the ones included in the “Prices” section below.
These stunning carved beams date from 14th-16th century making them 400-600 years old. The style of calligraphy used combining the foliate motifs weaving among the letters is consistent with this dating (Scarce, 1976). Furthermore, the use of red paint, the colour of the wood and the dimensions of each piece is also consistent with this date.
These two calligraphic beams are guaranteed to be at least 400 years old.
The cedar tree is native to the Eastern Mediterranean and is commonly found in Lebanon (where it appears on the national Flag), Palestine and Turkey. In ancient history, the Egyptians used cedar wood to make long boats and the Ottomans used them for a wide range of purposes including the laying of railway lines in Palestine.
In fact, the world's oldest surviving wooden architectural frame is the inner dome of the Dome of the Rock, dating back to the Fatimid period (Blair, 1998). Not only the frame but numerous parts of the Sanctuary are built of wood dating back to the Ayyuoffer, Mamluk and Ottoman period. Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean there are ancient mihrabs, gates, minbars, doors, railings, ceilings made of wood with intricate carving including calligraphy.
Cedar wood was used inside the palace or mosque as the tree grows to great heights of up to 40m. This means that it can be used for long beams/planks such as those needed for construction. In ancient times, cedar wood was known for it's natural insect repellent properties and even today it is used in Lebanon for this purpose (moth balls are made of cedar).
The main advantage of cedar wood is that it is known to grow straight and does not twist and warp unlike some other woods. Therefore it was ideal for long sections in ceiling beams and decorations in the inner roof of a place of worship or palace.
Museums do not generally identify the species of wood that their pieces are made of. However, please note the following examples where cedar is identified as the wood used:
Masjid al Aqsa Museum No.12 21: Cedar beam from Masjid Al Aqsa 11th Century
British Museum Accession Number 1878,1203.9: Egypt Cedar carved wood door 14th Century.
British Museum Accession Number 1878,1203.6: Egypt Cedar carved door panel 14th Century
Yale University Library Near East Collection: The oldest surviving sample of early Islamic bookbinding is a fragment made of cedar wood dating back to 9th century Egypt.
These beautiful carved early calligraphic panels or beams are 146cm long with a height of only 5cm. This length with such a low depth/height lends towards the view that these were part of a mihrab / minbar.
They have an exceptional length considering that they both have sections to fit another part on either end.
In her introduction to Mamluk woodwork, Dr Esin Atil states:
“Wood panels were used in the construction of minbars which were impressive structures, some as high as 7.5 metres” (Atil, 1981).
Therefore these two piece would have been part of a very large structure such as a minbar or mihrab.
Please note that they weigh around 5kg before packaging.
There is a Christies sale house sticker on one of the beams which corresponds to the card label attached by string. The card label also has bar-codes and a hand written description.
In the Christies sale, these stunning beams were described as coming from the “Adda Family Collection, formed in Alexandria in the first half of the 20th century”.
Ferdinand Adda was collecting Islamic antiques during the early 1900's and some of his collection is in the Metropolitan Museum (Canby, 2011). A number of early Islamic antiques from his collection were sold by his daughter in the 1960's and again in London sale houses during 2005-2010 (for example Christies 2009, Bonhams October 2010). Bonhams sold an ancient Egyptian 3,500 year old ceramic hippopotamus for £100,000 that was from the collection of Ferdinand Adda.
The Addas, one of the first Jewish families in Egypt to engage in trade with Europe in the modern period, made significant contributions to Egypt’s economic development and held important governmental posts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The first noteworthy member of the family was Sabbato Adda, whom Napoleon Bonaparte made responsible for relations between the Egyptian Jewish community and the French army of occupation. Other members of the family played integral roles in the Jewish community and built synagogues in Cairo (article in The Egypt Independent newspaper 15/12/2009).
Ferdinand Adda collected mainly Egyptian artefacts and based on the style, size, material and provenance we believe that these two works of art may originate from Egypt and were certainly purchased by Ferdinand Adda in Egypt prior to the 1930's.
Please note that early Islamic calligraphic wood beams and panels are HIGHLY sought after and command very high prices due to their rarity. We are offering this beautifully carved pair of early Islamic calligraphic beams with a low starting price that in no way reflects the rarity and market value of these amazing pieces.
The following are a representative sample of ACTUAL prices achieved for beams/panels from 8th-14thcenturies (please see final image above).
(1) Sotheby's April 2011 sold a Almohad carved panel frieze for over £900,000
(2) Christies April 2003 Almohad wooden beam made of pine painted in red, with some restoration, sold for £318,000
(3) Bonhams April 2008 sold a Nasrid Andalusian calligraphic wooden beam for £300,000
(4) Sotheby's April 2008 sold a Fatimid Egyptian carved beam for £250,000
Please have a good look at the photographs and note that there are some losses on both of the beams as shown. However, overall these two beams are in very acceptable condition when taking into account that they have survived for over 400 years.
We are offering these very rare, delightful & exquisitely carved with a very low starting price to allow for the condition as shown.
Please note that this is a very rare opportunity to acquire an exceptional piece of Islamic history.
Atil, Esin - “Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks” Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington 1981.
Blair, Sheila - “Islamic Inscriptions” Edinburgh University Press, 1998.
Bronstein, Leo “Decorative Woodwork of the Islamic period”, in:A Survey of Persian Art,ArthurUphamPope (ed.), London 1938.Canby, Sheila - “Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art” New York, 2011Hawari, Mahmoud - “Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza” Published by Museum With No Frontiers, MWNF, 2014.
Kuhnel, Ernst - “The Minor Arts of Islam” Cornell University Press, 1971.
Lamm, C.J - “Fatimid woodwork, its style and chronology” Cairo, 1936.
Mayer, Leo - “Islamic Woodcarvers and Their Works” Albert Kundig ,Geneva, 1958.
O'Kane, Bernard - “The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo” The American University in Cairo Press, 2006.
Rice, David - “Islamic Art” Thames & Hudson,London, 1965.
Scarce, Jennifer – Chapter on “Wood” in “The Arts of Islam” The Arts Council of Great Britain, 1976.
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