This beautiful calligraphic beam is a rare survival from the high point of Fatimid art and architecture. It probably was originally in a mosque or madrasa. It is notable for the beauty of the carving of its kufic, the presence of original polychrome and for the quotation from the Qur'an.
The phrase Alladhi khalaqa al-samawati wa'l-ard fi sitta ayam- He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six days-, appears four times in the Qur'an in sura VII, verse 54, X, verse 3, XI, verse 7 and in sura LVII verse 4. It is a reference to the Book of Genesis and a sentiment echoed in Judaism and Christianity.
As Carl Johann Lamm pointed out the woodwork of Fatimid Egypt is of paramount importance in understanding the art of the period. Wood was, of course, a rare material in North Africa and the carving of the period that survives is usually of very high quality. Lamm, C.J.: Fatimid woodwork, its style and chronology, 1935-6, pp. 59-91.
The present beam is related in style to some tie beams in the al-Hakim mosque in Cairo, dated to the first quarter of the 11th century. These are executed in stone or stucco rather than in wood. Stierlin, H.: Islam, early architecture from Baghdad to Cordoba, Köln, 1996, p. 157 .
Other similar published Fatimid wooden beams with kufic inscriptions against a floral ground are:
A section of a frieze in the Museum of Islamic art in Cairo, dateable to the 11th to 12th century (The arts of Islam, Hayward Gallery, 1976, no. 445, p. 286. and other panels in the same museum in the name of al-Hafiz (AH 541/1145-6 AD) in Catalogue du musée arabe, Les bois à épigraphes jusqu'à l'époque mamlouke, Caire 1931, pl. XV
Panels in the University of Michigan of the first half of the 12th century, Ars Islamica, Michigan, Vol. VI, Pt. 1., pp. 93-5
None of the above are polychromed, however, and are also probably of later date than the present lot.
A C14 dating test performed by the Leibniz Labor für Altersbestimmung in Kiel confirms the proposed dating to the 11th to first half 12th century with the most likely date being 1030 AD.