This monumental wood panel embellished with carved decoration served as an architectural element. Such carved-wood panels, along with carved and molded stucco on the upper walls and dadoes of ceramic-tile mosaic on the lower ones, formed the rich architectural decoration of the buildings erected in Morocco during the Marinid period. For instance, the interior courtyards of two madrasas in Fez, Bu ‘Inaniyya and al-‘Attarin, are embellished with similar carved-wood panels, which are placed above an inscribed wooden lintel that spans the openings of the ground arcade. The dadoes of ceramic-tile mosaic and panels of carved and molded stucco complete the architectural decoration of the space.
Assembled from two long boards, the present panel retains multiple layers of polychromy. Its carved decoration is composed of an arcade of tall cusped arches, each of which encloses under its apex a seven-lobed scallop-shell motif flanked by an inscription that reads "good luck." The interstices of the large arches are filled with a smaller, five-lobed shell motif similar to the element under the cusped arcade. The background of the panel is carved with densely packed, varied vegetal decoration that includes pinecones, split palmettes, and other foliate motifs.
The architectural and decorative forms and materials prevalent during the Marinid period exhibit clear affinities with the architecture and arts of the Nasrid dynasty of Iberia and reflect the contribution of craftsmen who emigrated to Morocco under the advancing reconquest of the peninsula by Christian monarchs.
Much of the currently visible polychrome surface decoration of this panel made of cedar (cedrus spp.)—red, yellow, blue, green, white, and black paints bound in a protein-based medium, probably animal glue—actually represents a later painting campaign. The pigments in these layers include orpiment, red lead, vermilion, white lead, and indigo, all traditional pigments that do not allow for any specific dating of this campaign. Areas of the earlier, original painted surface are also visible within losses to the later layers. The original surface decoration began with overall preparatory layers of red lead or orpiment applied beneath the arches and in the spandrels, respectively. Though the complete original decoration scheme is as yet unclear, some well-preserved areas show bright red and blue backgrounds embellished with dots and outlines in black and white. In the spandrels, the original surface of certain areas is composed of an orange-pigmented glaze applied over the yellow preparation layer, which resulted in a deep yellow-orange color. The binding medium in the original red-lead paint layer was identified as egg tempera.
The two long, parallel cedar boards of which the panel is constructed were originally connected to each other with five hand-wrought iron spikes that were tapered at both ends; two of the spikes are now broken, with half of each missing, indicating that the panels were detached at one time. Additional spikes along the top and bottom edges, as well as empty holes in the same areas, demonstrate that similar hardware was used to attach the panel to adjacent architectural elements. At the top, these iron spikes almost certainly held a narrow carved and painted floral border, as seen in a matching panel in the al-Sabah Collection. The remains of both a tenon and a mortise on the proper right end indicate the original joinery with the architectural woodwork.
Olga Bush, Beth Edelstein, and Kristina Werner in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Pigments and media analyses were carried out in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Scientific Research by scientists Adriana Rizzo, Mark T. Wypyski, and Tony Frantz. Egg tempera was identified by Daniel P. Kirby at the Straus Center for Conservation, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
2. Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya, al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait City, Kuwait (no. LNS 62W).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 56-57, ill. fig. 40 (color).
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 43 (1995–1996). p. 10, ill. p. 10 (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. 41, pp. 72-73, ill. p. 73 (color).