Constructing a Visual Rhetoric: Images of Craftsmen and Builders in the Umayyad Palace at Qusayr ‘Amra

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Abstract

This article treats a group of wall paintings depicting craftsmen and builders on the east vault of the large basilical hall in the Umayyad palace at Qusayr ‘Amra near Amman, Jordan.* The figures appear within 32 linked framed squares covering the whole ceiling. The significance of the paintings, their iconographical sources, style and the question of patronage are examined. Depictions of workers are a unique phenomenon in early Islamic art. However, they form part of the complex of themes present in Qusayr ‘Amra (as well as in other Umayyad palaces) under the heading of the “princely cycle”. I argue that the images of the builders, the act of building and the location of the paintings on the ceiling are all expressions of royal visual rhetoric which presents the Caliph as a great and glorious builder thus forging a self-glorifying image of the Umayyad dynasty in the eyes of their Muslim and Christian subjects alike. This visual rhetoric was adopted by the Umayyad patrons from the art traditions of Late Antiquity which offer both models for presenting rulers as builders as well as images of buildings and the act of building. *A series of craftsmen holding various tools of their trade–one with a frame saw, another with a chisel, a third with masonry hammer etc.–are depicted on a mosaic floor recently uncovered by Dr Uzi Leibner from the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a Roman-era synagogue at Khirbet Wadi Hamam, in the Lower Galilee. The workers appear next to a very large building, which they seem to be constructing. More details are found on the Institute website: http://archaeology.huji.ac.il/depart/classical/uzil/Kh_Hamam.pdf.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-160
Number of pages20
JournalAl-Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean
Volume20
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2008

Keywords

  • Byzantine illuminated manuscripts
  • Images of builders and buildings
  • Late Antique art traditions
  • Qusayr ‘Amra
  • Umayyad palaces–history and architecture

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