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These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more A RARE GHAZNAVID MARBLE PANEL FROM THE PALACE OF MAS’UD III AT GHAZNI


Of rectangular form, the face carved in shallow relief with a central register of tri-lobed arches containing bold interlaced arabesques, the spandrels similarly filled with strong arabesques, a band of thuluth above, minor chipping losses to edges
19 x 23in. (48.5 x 59cm.) 
Acquired at Rudolf Mangisch Galerie und Auktionshaus, Switzerland, Zurich in June 1992 by the present owner and thence part of his private collection
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Lot Essay

This striking panel belongs to a group associated with the Palace of Mas’ud III in Ghazni (r. AH 492-508/1099-1115 AD). Thanks to excavations done by the Italian Archaeological Mission in Afghanistan between 1947 and 1970, the palace is known to have been heavily decorated in marble in a way that finds little parallel in other contemporaneous buildings in Afghanistan.

Amongst the palace finds of the IAM was a small arch containing the titles of Mas’ud III, which provides firm evidence to link the palace to the sovereign (A. Bombaci, The Royal Palace of Mus’ud III at Ghazni¸ Rome, 1966, pl.XXXVII, fig.131). The arch has a band of strong, dense thuluth with a scrolling vine running through it sparsely issuing leaves. Beneath this is a band of loose naskh surmounting two trilobed palmettes in the spandrels. The scrolling vine, loose naskh and trilobed palmettes all find immediate parallels in our panel. Ours also shares with the arch and other panels from Mas’ud III’s palace a decoration that seems to be executed on two planes crossing over or under each other – in a way typical of Ghaznavid decoration. Another panel found at the site gave the name of the architect, Muhammad bin Husayn bin Mubarak, and the date of the completion of the building 1 Ramadan AH 505/3 March 1112 AD (Bombaci, op.cit., pl.XXXVIII, fig.133).

The inner court of the palace was covered with similar dado panels to ours but with kufic inscription rather than one in flowing naskh. At the time of the publication of Bombaci’s study, 44 such panels were known, all with a Persian inscription which Bombaci studied at length. Others were found around the palace and during surveys done in the Ghazni area. Ours was probably designed to decorate a different section of the palace – perhaps the southern area where little was found in its original setting. Martina Rugiadi publishes a similar dado panel, but with a simpler tri-lobed palmette found in situ on a long corridor leading to the inner court (Martina Rugiadi, ‘Marble from the Palace of Masu’ud III in Ghazni’, in Pierfrancesco Callieri and Luca Colliva (eds.), South Asian Archaeology 2007, Vol. II, Ravenna, 2007, fig.3, p.303).

Rugiadi writes that the marble is likely to have originally been richly coloured in red, blue and gold creating the effect of a ‘a brocaded surface’ (Martina Rugiadi, ‘Carved Marble in Medieval Ghazni: Function and Meaning’, in Hadeeth ad-Dar, Vol. 34, 2011, p.9). Marble obviously played a major role in the decoration of the palace, although as the building went through different occupational phases panels were often removed from their original locations. Some were later used as gravestones and a number are now in museums and private collections. The Linden Museum in Stuttgart, for example, has a long panel of repeating trefoil similarly filled with vegetal arabesques (Johannes Kalter, Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Abteilungsführer Islamischer Orient, Stuttgart, 1987, p.62).

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