Damascus Room

Object Name:
Period room
dated A.H. 1119/A.D. 1707
Syria, Damascus
Wood (poplar) with gesso relief, gold and tin leaf, glazes and paint; wood (cypress, poplar, and mulberry), mother-of-pearl, marble and other stones, stucco with glass, plaster ceramic tiles, iron, brass
H. 22 ft. 1/2 in. x 16 ft. 8 1/2 in. (671.6 x 509.2 cm), D. from inside front entrance to back wall 26 ft. 4 3/4 in. (804.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of The Hagop Kevorkian Fund, 1970
Accession Number:
  • Description

    The Damascus Room is a residential winter reception chamber (qa'a) typical of the late Ottoman period in Damascus, Syria. Among the earliest extant, nearly complete interiors of its kind, the room’s large scale and refined decoration suggest that it was part of the house of an important, affluent family. Poetry inscribed on its walls indicates that the patron was Muslim and possibly a member of the religious elite who were believed to have descended from the Prophet Muhammad.
    The Damascus Room, like most winter reception rooms (qa'as) of its time, is divided into two areas: a raised, square seating area (tazar) and a small antechamber ('ataba) entered through a doorway from a courtyard. The opening from which visitors view the room today would originally have been a wall with a cupboard. (The cupboard doors are now mounted in the passageway leading to the room.)
    Wealthy Damascene homeowners periodically refurbished reception rooms in accordance with shifting trends and tastes in interior decoration. Therefore, houses in the old city of Damascus as well as their interiors rarely date to a single building phase. Although the inscription dates most of the woodwork elements in the room to A.D. 1707, alterations were made to the room in the subsequent three centuries.
    The woodwork’s relief decoration is made of gesso covered with gold leaf, tin leaf with tinted glazes, and bright egg tempera paint. Known as 'ajami, this characteristic Ottoman-Syrian technique and style creates a rich texture with varied surfaces that are responsive to changes in light.
    The palette of the 'ajami decoration was originally much more colorful and more varied than it appears today. Periodically the surfaces were coated with a layer of varnish as a form of maintenance. Over time, subsequent coats of varnish have darkened, muting the colorful surfaces in the Damascus Room.
    The Damascus Room is decorated with forty stanzas of poetry.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Tazar Ceiling and Wall Cornice Text in Arabic:

    رآی البرق تعبیس الدجا فتبسما / وصافح ازهار الربا فتنسما /
    ولاح جبین الصبح في طرة الدجی / فخلت بیاض الثغر في ثمرة السلما /
    ورف لواء البرق لما تلاعبت / سوابق خیل الریح في حلبة السما /
    واوتر رامي الجو قوس سحابة / وارسل نحو الارض بالقطر اسهما /
    وقد بلّ اردان الثری دمع مزنه / تناثر في اسلاکها فتنظما /
    وجرّ علی هام الرُبا ذیل ویله / فدبّج اثواب الربوع وسهما /
    وشاب لجین الظل عسجد بارق / فدثر ازهار الربیع ودرهما /
    وشمّر کف الروض اکمام نوره / ووشح اعطاف الغصون وعمما /
    وقبل ثغر الزهر وجنة ورده / فاحسن به خداً واحبب به فما /
    ودار بساق الغصن خلخال جدول / کما سوّر التجعید للنهر معصما /
    ومال قوام البان یرقص نشطة / لبرق تراءی او حمام ترنما /
    وعانق من خوط الاراکة معطفاَ / وقبل من زهر الاقاحة مبسما /
    وخط بظرس الجو سطراً مذهباً / ففضّضه قطر الغمام واعجما /
    وکحّل بالیاقوت جفناً و ناظراً / وخضّب بالحنا کفاً ومعصما /
    ولا حاجة في النفس إلا امتداحها / ابا القاسم الهادي النبي المعظما /
    بشیراً نذیراً صادق القول مرسلاً / حبیباً خلیلاً هاشمیاً مقدما /
    تقیاً نقیاً ابطحیاً مبجلاً / سراجاً منیراً زمزمیاً مکرّما /
    نبي ترد المجد والبأس حلیة / مفوّفة فیها الکمال مجسما /
    نبي هدی لولاه ما استبرق الدجی / ولا ازهد الداجي ولا اعشب الحما /
    هو المجتبی المبعوث للناس رحمة / فلله ما احیا واحمی وارحما /
    هو الذروة العلیا التي لا ترتقی / هو العروة الوثقة التي لن تفصما /
    ایا خاتم ارسال یا فاتح العلا / حنانیک قد وافیت بابک مجرما /
    فیا رب یا الله کن لي ولا تکن / عليّ فقد ضاق الفلا واظلما /
    سألتک بالهادي اجب دعوتي وجد / بما ارتجی یا مالک الارض والسما /
    وسامح ونعم والديّ تطولا / ولا تحرق اللهم بالنار مسلما /
    وصل علی المختار والصحب کلما / رأی البرق تعبیس الدجی فتبسما

    English translation of the Tazar Ceiling and Wall Cornice Text:

    The lightning saw the darkness frown and smiled. It skimmed and wafted
    over the flowers of the hills./
    Dawn’s forehead shone through the forelock of darkness, and it pierced
    the whiteness of the teeth in the fruit of red lips./
    Lightning’s banner fluttered when racing horses of the wind dallied in the sky./
    The archer of the air loosened the bow of his cloud and sent toward the
    earth a downpour of sun rays./
    The tears of the rain cloud have moistened the cuffs of the earth’s sleeves —
    [the pearly tears] that were scattered on their threads were restrung./
    [The rain] dragged the skirt between its legs over the head of the hills
    and adorned the garments of spring encampments with stripes./
    And the silver of the shade mixed with the gold of lightning, and it covered
    the spring flowers with a blanket and produced round leaves./
    And the hand of the garden gathered up the sleeves of its blooms and
    embellished the shoulders of the branches and wrapped them in turbans./
    The mouth of the flowers kissed the cheek of its rose. What a beautiful cheek!
    what a lovely mouth!/
    . . . as the curling put bracelets on the river’s wrist/
    Does the willow tree dance gaily because of lighting that became visible
    or because of warbling doves?/
    It embraced a cloak of the thorn tree’s green branches and kissed a mouth
    made of the blossoms of chamomile./
    And it wrote on a palimpsest of air a gilded line and then drops of clouds
    dotted it with silver./
    It lined with ruby an eyelid and an eye, and it daubed with henna a hand
    and a wrist./
    The soul has no need but to praise him, Abu’l-Qasim, who guides aright,
    magnificent prophet./
    Bringer of glad tidings, warner of the hereafter, true in his words, emissary,
    beloved and friend [of God], of Hashimite descent, preferred by all./
    Pious, pure, Abtahi [Meccan], revered, a shining lamp from Zamzam, honored./
    A prophet who dons glory and power as striped finery in which beauty
    is embodied./
    A prophet who has guided aright. Were it not for him, the dark would not be
    illuminated, night would not blossom, and slime would not bring forth greenery./
    He is the elect mercifully sent to the people. By God, how many are the
    lives he has given, how protective is he, and how merciful!/
    He is the highest summit that cannot become higher. He is the firm bond
    that will never break./
    O seal of prophecy, O opener of highest heaven, I beg mercy, coming to
    thy gate as a sinner./
    O Lord, O God, be for me, and be not against me, for the world has
    become narrow and dark./
    I ask Thee by him who guides aright, answer my prayer and be generous
    with what I hope for, O master of the earth and sky./
    And be tolerant, respond favorably, and he who . . ., and, O God, do not burn
    any Muslims in hellfire./
    And pray for the Chosen One and his companions whenever lightning sees.
    the darkness frown and smiles./

    These poems are part of 329 lines of a poem composed by Shihab al-Din Ibn al-Khalluf (D. 1494). There are some differences between the poems inscribed in this room and the ones known from manuscripts, see: http://www.poetsgate.com/poem_117103.html .

    Wall Panels Text in Arabic:

    بیت المحامد والمفاخر والندی / دامت بک الافراح تهتف سرمدا /
    شادتک اید المجد في شرف العلی / للائذین حمي یصون من الردی /
    وترنمت ورق الحمائم بالهناء / بعلاک والداعي المثوب غرّدا /
    بشراک بالعلیاء فبانیک الذي / سامی الکواکب والدرار سؤددا /
    تدب به فی کل صعب راحة / تأتي لها الاُسد الضراغم سُجّدا /
    وید تمد السائلین بسیبها / ما البحر عند نوالها إن ازبدا /
    فرع نماه الی الاکارم عصبة / نالت من المجد المؤثل مقصدا /
    من کل من لبس المعالي بردة / وبکل عزّ في الانام قد ارتدا /
    جعلوا الوزارة والصدارة خادماً / والوقت قناً والمفاخر اعبدا /
    دُم بالمسرة یا فرید زمانه / واهنأ بما لک بالعنایة شیدا /
    متنعماً في ظل عیش ارغد / تقتاد ما تبتغي علی رغم العدی /
    ما جاءنا تاریخ ما احکمته / بیتاً یصیخ له النهی إن انشدا /
    نادی الیها والجود في ابراجه / بمحمد ربع المکارم اطدا /
    سنة 1119

    Translation of the Wall Panels Text:

    House of praiseworthy and glorious deeds and generosity, may rejoicing
    in you be praised eternally./
    Hands of nobility erected you in the highest dignity. Those seeking refuge
    have an abode that protects them from destruction./
    Turtledoves sing congratulations on your sublimity, and the well rewarded
    summoner (?) warbles./
    Rejoice in your loftiness, for he who built you surpasses the planets
    and stars in glory./
    For it comfort is given in every difficulty: ferocious lions come to it prostrate./
    A hand that assists with gifts those who implore, as the sea yields
    when it froths./
    A family branch which traces its root to the most noble of men derives
    more significance from high-born glory./
    Than anyone who wears nobility as a cloak and is clothed in all splendor
    among mankind./
    They have made the office of vizier and that of the comptroller subservient,
    time a slave, and the proud has been enslaved./
    Remain in happiness, O unique one of your time, and enjoy what has
    been erected with such care for you./
    Luxuriating in the shadow of a life of easy, you achieve what you desire
    in spite of enemies./
    What has come to us is the date of what you have built so strongly as
    a house for which wisdom cries out, “Recite!”/
    In its towers are assembled splendor and generosity. Through Muhammad,
    the abode of noble qualities was established./
    Year 1119 [A.D. 1707–8].

    "According to the last line, the name of the poet must be “محمد ربع المکارم” Muhammad Rabhʻ al-Makārim and this person was the sheikh of al-Azhar in the 10th century, this person built a mosque near Cairo at a city called FAWAH and the mosque still till now at that place, see http://www.kenanaonline.com/page/4859 No.10.

    Independent Couplets in Arabic:

    یا مصطفی من قبل نشأة آدم / والکون لم تفتح له اغلاق /
    ایروم مخلوق ثناؤک بعدما / اثنی علی اخلاقک الخلاق

    Translation of Independant Couplets:

    O you who were chosen before Adam sprouted, before the locks
    of existence were opened./
    Can a creature desire to praise you, after that Creator had praise your behavior./

    These two lines are from Lisān al-Dīn Ibn al-Khatīb, the famous poet and minster of Morocco during the 14th c. and appear in:
    Diwān Lisān al-Dīn Ibn al-Khatīb al-Salmānī, ed. Muhmmad Miftāh, 2 vols., Dr al-thaqāfa li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzī‘, al-Dār al-Bayḍā’, 1989. Vol.2 p.715. These two lines were used in the 18th c. by Musā al-Mahāsinī (d. 1173 A.H) within a TAKHMĪS as mentioned in:
    Hulyat al-Bashar fī ’A‘yān al-Qarn al-Thānī ‘Ashar, by Bihjat al-‘Attār, 4 vols., vol.4., p.224.

  • Provenance

    [ Asfar and Sarkis, Damascus, Syria, early 1930s; sold to Kevorkian]; Hagop Kevorkian, New York (early 1930s–d. 1962); Kevorkian Foundation, New York (1962–70)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History