Art/ Collection/ Art Object


late 8th century
Syria, probably Raqqa
Alabaster, gypsum; carved
H. 11 1/4 in. (28.6 cm) W. 12 1/4 in. (31.1 cm) D. 12 1/4 in. (31.1 cm) Wt. 100 lbs. (45.4 kg)
Credit Line:
Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1936
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 451
This capital, carved of soft alabaster, demonstrates a vegetal style of the early Abbasid period. The classical curled leaf forms are representative of a traditionally decorated capital which later gave way to the emergence of the distinctive Beveled style form.
This capital probably comes from the site of Raqqa on the middle Euphrates in Syria. The Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (r. 754–75) built a new settlement, al-Rafiqa, alongside the antique city of Raqqa in 772, but it was twenty-four years later that the new city reached its apogee, when Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809) established his caliphal residence there, spurring a huge building initiative. Among the remains of more than twenty palatial complexes, nineteenth-century visitors found similar capitals and, more recently, excavators have recovered panels of carved stucco bearing related designs. Several comparable capitals now dispersed in various collections reportedly originated from this site as well. This evidence, together with the ornate design and refined workmanship of the carving, suggests that the capital was created for a monumental building such as a palace or mosque.

The alabaster capitals in this group probably belong to the period of Harun al-Rashid’s residence in Raqqa between 795 and 808. Despite this narrow time range, the capitals vary widely in style. Some, like this example, are inspired by a type of vegetal ornament found in Late Antique architectural decoration at Palmyra, situated about seventy-five miles (120 km) south of Raqqa. Its form is distantly reminiscent of acanthus capitals, but the leaf motifs are less three-dimensional than their classical antecedents, and the foliate elements are more stylized. Around all four sides the design consists of two registers of half palmettes within a symmetrical scroll pattern filled with small trefoil sprigs. In the abacus zone atop the capital, paired winglike palmettes with blossoms adorn two of the sides, and vegetal scrolls encircle rows of blossoms on the other two. Prominent acanthus-leaf bosses articulate the four corners. Other alabaster capitals in this group, among them a contemporaneous example at the Metropolitan Museum and another in the David Collection, Copenhagen, display a beveled style associated with stucco carvings from the Abbasid palaces at Samarra built about thirty years later. These capitals and the related wall decoration suggest, as has been argued, that the "Samarra" stucco styles developed in Syria.

Ellen Kenney (author) in [Ekhtiar et al. 2011]
[ Eustache de Lorey, Paris, until 1936; sold to MMA]
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 86, ill. fig. 51 (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. 20, p. 42, ill. p. 42 (color).

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