Name of Object:

Decorated pillar


Lisbon, Portugal

Holding Museum:

Carmo Museum of Archaeology


Hegira 3rd–4th century / AD 9th–10th century

Type of object:

Pillar, stone

Museum Inventory Number:

Esc. 404

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Limestone; bas-relief sculpture.


Height 95 cm, width 43 x 41 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Umayyads of Córdoba, Caliphate period




Fragment of a pillar that presumably stood between the naves of a small monastic church, in the eastern suburb of the city of Lisbon. The relics of St Felix and St Adrian were venerated in this Mozarabic sanctuary.
The fragment is decorated on its four sides with griffins and centaurs within medallions, formed by interlaced laurel wreaths set vertically on top of each other, on each side of the pillar. Five of these medallions have survived intact today along with fragments of another two, on the second ornamental row. Like other sculptures from the same period in Lisbon, these bas-reliefs express a highly decorative sense and show evidence of the horror vacui or fear of emptiness, such is the density of ornamentation on each panel. This sensation of decorative abundance is reinforced by the filling of the corners and intercalary spaces of the laurel wreaths with whimsical palmettes, which sometimes appear to derive from the fleur-de-lys, with the number of leaves of foliar lobes multiplied. The fantastical animals, in various positions and facing each other, are sculpted by cutting away the surrounding stone, creating a relief in two planes, the upper face of which, corresponding to the actual body of the animal, is livened up by lines sculpted in the stone to highlight the anatomical details. The crowns of laurels and the palmettes are, in turn, bevelled in a similar way to other pieces from Lisbon found in various locations, but which were undoubtedly produced by the same workshop of craftsmen.

View Short Description

Current Owner:

Association of Portuguese Archaeologists

Original Owner:

Monastery of São Félix and Santo Adrião, in Chelas (Lisbon)

How date and origin were established:

The pillar and other decorated pieces found in Chelas present a decorative structure and a sculptural effect very similar to certain Umayyad bas-reliefs, namely the winged quadrupeds in the laurel wreath from the palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar, near Jericho (2nd / 8th century). The analogy that has been established with woven materials of Sassanid origin produced in Byzantium, which spread throughout the Mediterranean basin during the 3rd–4th / 9th–10th centuries, is also useful. An example is the Byzantine silk in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (New York), whose decoration is identical to the bas-reliefs from Chelas and to those on the Casa dos Bicos in Lisbon.

How Object was obtained:

Acquired by the Association of Portuguese Archaeologists after having been identified in the AD 19th century by I. de Vilhena Barbosa.

How provenance was established:

An account made in 1864 by I. de Vilhena Barbosa states that this piece was found embedded in a wall of the kitchen garden of the sacristy.

Selected bibliography:

Barbosa, I. V., “Fragmento de um Roteiro de Lisboa (unpublished). Arrabaldes de Lisboa”, Archivo Pittoresco, 7, Lisbon, 1864.
Caballero Zoreda, L., “Sobre Santa Comba de Bande (Ourense) y las Placas de Saamasas (Lugo)”, Galicia no Tempo, Santiago de Compostela, 1992, pp.75–115.
Fernandes, P. A., “Escultura de Alta Idade Média Cristã”, in Roteiro da Exposição Permanente. Museu Arqueológico do Carmo, Lisbon, 2002, pp.63–7.
Real, M. L., “Os Moçárabes do Gharb Português”, in Portugal Islâmico: Os últimos Sinais do Mediterrâneo, exhibition catalogue, Lisbon, 1998, pp.35–56.
Valdez, J. J. A., “Monumentos Archeológicos de Chelas”, Boletim da Real Associação dos Architectos Civis e Archeologos Portuguezes, Series 3, Vol. 8, nos. 3–4, Lisbon, 1898, pp.55–9.

Citation of this web page:

Manuel Luís Real "Decorated pillar" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019.;ISL;pt;Mus01_C;25;en&id=architectural_elements

Prepared by: Manuel Luís RealManuel Luís Real

Manuel Luís Real é um estudioso da arte e arqueologia hispânicas da alta Idade Média. Licenciou-se em História em 1974, pela Universidade do Porto. É pós-graduado em Biblioteconomia e Arquivística, exercendo funções de director do Departamento de Arquivos da CMP. Apresentou tese sobre A Arte Românica de Coimbra e, desde então, tem-se dedicado a investigações sobre arquitectura e escultura medievais. Participou em várias campanhas arqueológicas em estações de origem pré-românica: Falperra, Costa, Lagares, Sabariz, etc. Ultimamente, tem-se dedicado ao estudo das comunidades moçárabes, nomeadamente às formas e ao contexto da sua produção artística. Coordena ainda o projecto de pesquisas sobre a Casa do Infante, sede do Arquivo Municipal do Porto, onde, na Idade Média, funcionaram a alfândega, a casa da moeda e a contadoria do Rei.

Translation by: Gilla Evans
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: PT 34