Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Battle Scene

Object Name:
Illustrated album leaf or single work
13th century
Attributed to Probably Egypt
Opaque watercolor on paper
H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm) W. 7 3/16 in. (18.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome A. Straka Gift, Fletcher Fund and Margaret Mushekian Gift, 1975
Accession Number:
Not on view
This scene depicts a battle in which the central figure appears to be the only one who has not lost a limb. Severed heads, arms, and legs and a man who has lost his hand are arranged across the composition. The legs and tail of a downed horse are visible at the lower left. The sketchy drawing and thin wash used for the figures suggest that the image was produced in thirteenth-century Egypt. The curved swords are associated with "Saracens", as found in a thirteenth-century European illustration of a Crusader battle.

Using confident, simple lines, the artist responsible for this drawing captured the frenzied chaos of battle. The original context for this drawing is difficult to determine. The summary lines and thin wash used for the figures suggest that it may have been produced in Egypt. Informal excavations in Fustat in the early twentieth century yielded dozens of undated fragmentary drawings.[1]

There is no suggestion of glory or beauty in this war. The men appear naked; only one retains all his limbs. Severed heads, arms, and legs and a wounded man who has lost his hand are scattered across the paper. Headgear and swords provide few clues as to the date, and no specifics are given as to the site.[2] Indeed, such butchery could occur anywhere. The appearance of a fallen horse at the lower left poignantly mirrors the sad accounts of animal suffering during the wars for the Holy Land.[3]

Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb in [Boehm and Holcomb, 2016]


1. "Drawing." In The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair, vol. 2, pp. 20–21. 3 vols. Oxford and New York, 2009; Grube, Ernst J. " Three Miniatures from Fustat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York." Ars Orientalis 5 (1963), pp. 89–95, pls. 1–6; Grube, Ernst J. " Fostat Fragments." in Robinson, B[asil] W[illiam] et al. Islamic Painting and the Art of the Book. The Keir Collection. London, 1976, pp. 23–66.

2. One could compare this drawing to a watercolor sketch of a battle scene in the British Museum, London (1938.0312.0.1), which was found in Fustat. The artist of that work took a different tack, rendering the swords, shields, and setting with enough precision to date it with some confidence to the thirteenth century. See L'Orient de Saladin: L'art des Ayyubides. Exh. cat., L'Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris 2001–2. Catalogue by Sophie Makariou and others. Paris 2001, p. 94, no. 62.

3. See for example, Ibn Al-Qalanasi. The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades, Extracted and Translated from the Chronicle of Ibn Al-Qalanasi. Edited and Translated by H[amilton] A.R. Gibb. University of London Historical Series. 5. London, 1932, pp. 161, 287–88.
[ Herbert N. Bier, London, until 1975; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fifty Years of Collecting Islamic Art," September 23, 2013–January 26, 2014, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven," September 26, 2016–January 8, 2017, 106.

Drake Boehm, Barbara, and Melanie Holcomb, ed. Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 106, p. 210, ill. fig. 106.

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