Art/ Collection/ Art Object


10th century
From Spain, probably Cordoba
Marble; carved
H. 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm) W. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm) D. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm) Wt. 140 lbs. (63.5 kg)
Credit Line:
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915
Accession Number:
Not on view
This capital probably came from the splendid Umayyad royal residence city of Madinat al-Zahra', near Cordoba, Spain, which was founded in 936. The classical tradition so important in Umayyad Syrian art is evident here. This is not surprising in light of the Syrian roots of this caliphal house (711–1031), which arose in Spain after the Umayyad dynasty was replaced and almost extinguished by the new 'Abbasid rulers centered in Baghdad.
Masterfully carved, this Corinthian-style capital must have originally decorated a colonnaded hall or courtyard arcade in one of the lavishly embellished palaces erected during the tenth century under the patronage of the Umayyad dynasty in and around Cordoba, its capital. Three crowns of thick, fleshy acanthus leaves, springing from graceful stems with delicate foliage, form its main decorative elements; the curved finials of the leaves have been lost. The effect of the richly carved surface is rendered through the vigorous stems of the plant, which intertwine, branch out, and enclose the leaves and the other foliate motifs. As it fans out onto the surfaces of the corner volutes, the fine foliate spray emphasizes the volume of the capital, the complexity of the design, and the skillfulness of the workmanship. Executed in deep relief, the carving is crisply and distinctly articulated against the background. The name of the craftsman responsible for the carving appears in the partially preserved inscription on a boss at the top and center of one side of the capital.

The harmonious dimensions, refined decoration, carving technique and style, and content and placement of the inscription indicate that the capital was most likely made in the royal workshops for Madinat al-Zahra. This palatial city was begun by the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman III (r. 912–61) in 936 on the outskirts of Cordoba and continued by his son and heir, al-Hakam II (r. 961–76). The palaces of Madinat al-Zahra, their reception halls lavishly adorned with carved and painted stone capitals, arcades, and wall panels—all set within verdant gardens, open courtyards, and reflecting pools—are a testament to the wealth, power, and artistic accomplishments of the Umayyad caliphs at the height of their rule.

Olga Bush (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: On boss at one side of capital in Arabic in cursive script:
عمل خبرة
Made by Khabara[?]
Theodore M. Davis, New York (by 1914–d. 1915; bequeathed to MMA)
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 106, ill. fig. 60 (b/w).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 40, p. 72, ill. p. 72 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 116-117, ill. pl. 21 (color).

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