Name of Object:

Carved figure of a mammal


Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art


Hegira, mid-4th–mid-5th centuries / AD 10th–11th centuries

Type of object:

Mammal, stucco

Museum Inventory Number:

Stc 018

Material(s) / Technique(s):



Length 33 cm, height 16 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Sabra al-Mansuriyya.


This mammal looks like a cow with no horns or like a hippopotamus with no tail. The lower part of the two hind legs and of one of the fore-legs is also missing. Face on, the features are quite clear but highly simplified; just rough cavities for the eyes, a hole to indicate the nostrils and a hollowed-out line for the mouth. Seen from the back, the face is totally unrecognisable. The neck and the rest of the body are thick-set. It is unclear what this animal was used for. Could it have decorated the facade of a wall or have been part of a bas-relief? This is very difficult to ascertain because of the rarity of such objects in both Occidental and Oriental Muslim art. We do have clay figures of horses, camels and mules from Iran and Samarkand, but their function is well-defined. They were used as toys or ornaments and are completely different from Kairouanese figures, which are unique in Muslim art.

View Short Description

How date and origin were established:

This stucco head was found, among other human and animal carvings, in the excavations carried out at Sabra al-Mansuriyya in 1978. It was found in a very ploughed-up area with no clear archaeological layering. The objects were scattered around in a random manner. One has the impression that someone had tried to eradicate or hide these figurative objects for no obvious reason except that there could be a connection with the changing religious mentality in Ifriqiya. This action could indeed coincide with the persecution of the Shi'ites during the troubles in 407 / 1016 or following the split between the Zirid emirate and the Fatimid caliphate in 440 / 1048–9. This date could be a terminus post quem. The terminus ante quem is just after the founding of Sabra in 337 / 948. Any further precision is rendered impossible due to the lack of a definite archaeological layer.

How Object was obtained:

After its discovery at Sabra al-Mansuriyya, this piece was placed in the site storehouse. It was acquired in 1992 by the Museum at Raqqada. It will be displayed in the second section of the Museum, currently under construction.

How provenance was established:

The manufacture of these objects, which is unique in Ifriqiya and in the Maghreb, appears to have taken place in Sabra al-Mansuriyya and to have been commissioned by the Shi'ites.

Selected bibliography:

Tunisie, terre de rencontres et de civilisation (Seville exhibition catalogue), Tunis, 1986, p.226
30 ans au service du patrimoine (exhibition catalogue), Tunis, 1986, p.257.

Citation of this web page:

Mourad Rammah "Carved figure of a mammal" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;tn;Mus01;40;en&id=sculptures

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 63