Made in Jordan, Qasr al-Mshatta
29 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. (75 x 52 cm)
Jordan Archaeological Museum, Amman (J. 16583)
Not on view
The unfinished palace at Mshatta near Amman, Jordan is the largest of the Umayyad palaces. Resembling a fortress with its twenty-five semicircular towers and monumental entrance gate, it had a grand audience hall on the same axis as the entrance. The gatehouse complex near the entrance included a mosque. The exterior walls flanking the entrance gate were covered with elaborately carved decoration in the Byzantine tradition. The building may have been ordered by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid II (r. 743–44) to welcome those returning from the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca and then left unfinished at his death.
This torso is the remains of a large female figure, perhaps a dancer. Wearing revealing drapery and holding what may be a piece of fruit before her navel, she resembles the maenads—members of Dionysos’ retinue in the classical and Byzantine periods. She is one of a group of nearly lifesize male and female figures that decorated the audience hall of the qasr (palace).