Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Fragment of a Cornice Panel

Object Name:
10th century
Excavated in Iran, Nishapur
Stucco; molded, applied, and carved
H. 28 1/16 in. (71.3 cm) W. 29 5/16 in. (74.5 cm) D. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm) Wt. 91 lbs (41.3 kg)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1940
Accession Number:
Not on view
This panel comes from the site of Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur. The excavators found this and other fragments broken and piled up in a room, so it was unclear where this particular panel had come from, although the curvature of the upper elements suggests it came from a cornice decorating the top part of a wall. The decoration of rows of leaves on vines and projecting pineapple-shaped bosses is quite different from the stucco found at other parts of Nishapur, but resembles stuccowork decoration from other cities in Iran and Central Asia of the same period.
Found at Tepe Madrasa, Nishapur, this panel with vine leaves and projecting pineapple-shaped bosses was located among many other stucco fragments that had once decorated a group of buildings northwest of this area’s mosque. As these fragments were piled among the remains of destroyed structures, with little in situ, it was impossible to determine where this particular panel originally appeared, or even to know the type of room to which it belonged. Nevertheless, its curved upper margin led the excavators to conclude that it had once formed part of a cornice.[1]
The panel’s decoration is quite different from the stuccowork found at other parts of Nishapur, such as that excavated at the part of the site known as Sabz Pushan, or even in adjacent buildings at Tepe Madrasa. However, its design can be favorably compared to stuccowork with similar motifs found at Merv and at the Samanid palace of Afrasiyab (modern Samarqand), both thought to be of the ninth century,[2] and at Hira, possibly of the eighth century.[3]
The finds from these sites elucidate the use of stucco in the medieval Islamic world, testifying to this medium’s widespread popularity during the ninth and tenth centuries, especially in the Samanid realms of northeastern Iran, which included Nishapur. Although scholars have tended to credit the use of stucco at the Abbasid capital of Samarra to the prevalence of stucco throughout the Abbasid cultural sphere, remains from earlier periods at Afrasiyab, Merv, Rayy, and other late Sasanian sites in Iran seem to suggest a long local history for the stucco patterns found in Islamic-period buildings, indicating that the Samanid-era stuccowork may have had an indigenous source. The finds from Iran also provide evidence for the simultaneous use of many styles of carving at a single site. Reconstructions made by the excavators of Afrasiyab suggest that the buildings had entire walls and ceilings covered with stucco panels, each with a different design. These panels were often colored bright blue, yellow, and red, and traces of such pigments were found on this panel as well.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. These fragments were found in the structure C2; see Wilkinson 1986, pp. 116–36. The panel as shown here has been restored; for the fragments as excavated, see ibid., p. 133, fig. 1.142.
2. Akhrarov, I. A., and L. Rempel. Reznoi shtuk Afrasiaba (Relief sculpture in Afrasiab). Tashkent, 1971, p. 45, fig. 22.
3. Rice, D[avid] Talbot. "The Oxford Excavations at Hira." Ars Islamica 1, pt. 1 (1934), pp. 51–73, figs. 1–24.
1938, excavated at Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1940, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds

Wilkinson, Charles K. Nishapur: Some Early Islamic Buildings and their Decoration. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. p. 134, ill. fig. 1.143 (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. 61, pp. 7, 87, 101, ill. p. 101 (color).

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