Note continued from the preceding lot
The Decoration of the Roof
Each beam is carved on the entire surface of the three visible sides. The design of interlaced fronds and sometimes geometric motifs is left well proud of the background. The edges of the design are lightly bevelled at an angle, but the design is essentially on two planes. The edges are in effect raised to the level of the design and thereby enclose it. Ambrosio de Morales's comments, noted already, were however as much about the opulence of the decoration of the roof as the cost of importing the larch from the Maghrib. The entire surface was painted, which is one of the aspects that makes the appearance of the present beams so exciting. Many of the beams however that were studied by Felix Hernández were repainted by Velázquez Bosco in the early 20th century. While this restoration helps to re-establish the visual impact of the beams when they were first painted, it also means that it is more difficult to re-establish precisely how the decoration was coloured. Two of our five beams in particular, this lot and lot 91, demonstrate very clearly the polychromy that originally covered all of them.
A wide variety of designs was used on the rectangular panels that originally sat between the beams. These panels are well published, albeit in black and white, by Felix Hernández. In all he found some 20 complete or partial beams and as many as 160 panels. He publishes sixty-one different designs from the panels whose complexity gives a very good idea of the designs that would originally have greeted the visitor to the Great Mosque. The variety within the beams that he discovered was considerably less. In all he only published four designs for the lower faces of the beams, two of which are the same as those of the present examples (figs.68 and 69). He also, on the following page, illustrates eight complete or part designs for the sides of the beams. In this case, while the design for the present beam is shown (fig.77), that for lots 92 and 94 is not.
One of the subjects that concerned him was the discrepancy between the decoration of the panels and beams when compared to the decorative elements of the remainder of the mosque. The panels in particular seem to show a strong Abbasid influence, notably to the plaster decoration at Samarra. He explained this by suggesting that the carvers were imported from the eastern Mediterranean, comparable to the way that the mosaicists were imported from the Byzantine Empire. Yet many of the designs on the beams are very close to those of stucco decoration at Medinat al-Zahra (Henri Stern, pl.52b for example). It may not be necessary to posit the work of foreign craftsmen.
The note continues under the following lot