Carved wood fragment
Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira 242–9 / AD 856–63
Carved teak wood.
Length 64 cm, width 5.5 cm, thickness 3.5 cm
This fragment comes from the minbar (preacher's chair) of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, which was donated by Prince Abu Ibrahim Ahmad. This is the oldest dated preacher's chair in the Islamic world. Constructed of teak wood, it is made up of an assembly of over 300 carved pieces. Exceptionally rich in ornament, these panels show just how varied were the models from which Ifriqiyan carvers took their repertoire. This fragment was part of the riser forming the top edge of the staircase of the minbar.
The rich floral decoration of the panel consists of alternately arranged foliated scrolls, each one containing a spread vine-leaf and a cluster of grapes. Stylised five-leaf or furled three-leaf vine motifs are the most favoured floral designs of Aghlabid decoration.
All these Byzantine-influenced decorations have an affinity with those found on sculpted objects and monuments of the Umayyad period. The finesse of the floral decoration, the richness of the work and the high quality of the finish, as well as the nature of the woods used all show how mature Ifriqiyan art was at that time and how well it adopted, developed and took forward the Umayyad tradition.
The Aghlabid prince, Abu Ibrahim Ahmad (r. AH 242–9 / AD 856–63)
Historical texts reveal that this minbar dates from the period of the fifth reigning Aghlabid prince, Abu Ibrahim Ahmad. This is corroborated by the fact that the decoration of the fragment belongs to the Aghlabid repertoire, and by the strong affinity with the carved motifs on the wooden lintels of the Mosque of the Three Doors, dating from the year 252 / 866.
After the restoration of the minbar of the Great Mosque of Kairouan around 1920, some pieces were removed and kept with the mosque's relics. When the Great Mosque's museum was created in 1965, this fragment was taken from the relics and displayed at the museum. Since 1986 it has been kept at the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada, where it will be displayed in the second section, which is currently under refurbishment (2005).
Some historical texts suggest that this minbar was made in Baghdad, but the information is unclear and not viable. If the teak wood can be shown to originate from the Indian sub-continent, then all the evidence would suggest this is in fact the work of Kairouanese wood-carvers.
Tunez, Tierra de Culturas (exhibition catalogue), Valencia, 2004, p.232.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.159–62, 182–3.
Mourad Rammah "Carved wood fragment" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;ISL;tn;Mus01;9;en&id=furniture_and_woodwork
Prepared by: Mourad RammahMourad Rammah
Né en 1953 à Kairouan, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mourad Rammah est le conservateur de la médina de Kairouan. Lauréat du prix Agha Khan d'architecture, il publie divers articles sur l'histoire de l'archéologie médiévale islamique en Tunisie et participe à différentes expositions sur l'architecture islamique. De 1982 à 1994, il est en charge du département de muséographie du Centre des arts et des civilisations islamiques. Mourad Rammah est également directeur du Centre des manuscrits de Kairouan.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TN 14
On display in
Exhibition(s) Discover Islamic Art
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)