A massive Maghribi calligraphic carved wood Beam North Africa, 12th-14th Century
Lot 37
A massive Nasrid calligraphic carved wood Beam Andalusia, 14th Century
Sold for £300,000 (US$ 503,944) inc. premium
Lot Details
A massive Nasrid calligraphic carved wood Beam
Andalusia, 14th Century
of elongated rectangular form carved in relief with a line of inscription in kufic on a ground of scrolling vines
29.8 x 16 cm.


  • Provenance:
    Acquired in 1958.

    The carved beam is of rectangular form, the face carved with a single line of strong kufic inscription interlaced with scrolling tendrils which terminate in single leaves and split palmettes, with a plain framing strip above and below. Rather than filling every available space the carver allows space for the rhythmic movement of the two elements, epigraphic and vegetal, to progress beautifully along the length of this magnificent beam.

    The kufic inscription is an Arabic couplet, which has not been fully deciphered. It is carved in a strong, beveled style, which stands out plainly against the scrolling vegetal motif, which appears to intertwine in several layers behind the inscription. This ataurique consists of a continuous scrolling tendril with split palmettes and leaves, which fills the upper registers and extends into the lower reaches appearing beneath and behind the inscription.

    Unlike the bold inscription, the ataurique is embellished with further detailed carving comprising a line through the centre of the tendril, which helps to clearly distinguish it from the inscription. This technique is typical of Nasrid carving and can be seen in the stucco decoration of the 14th century 'Hall of the Two Sisters' in the Alhambra (see Barrucand, M., Moorish Architecture in Andalusia, Cologne 1992, pp. 202-203).

    Carved wooden beams were used throughout the architecture of the Nasrids, who ruled Granada from 1238 to 1492. The finest examples of Nasrid carved beams can be found at the palace of the Alhambra where they are found together with carved stucco and ceramic mosaics decorating the ceilings and walls, vaults and arches of the palace complex.

    The decorative style and carving technique found in this exceptional wooden beam are typical of Nasrid carving from Granada, particularly that of the 14th century. During the time of Muhammad V (r.1354-59, and 1362-91) the inscriptions began to be intertwined with the ataurique motifs for the first time. Several distinguishing features, including the knotted motif on one of the horizontal shafts and the cartouche motif at the far right end of the beam, contribute to the attribution of this beam to 14th century Granada. Similar motifs are found in the carved beam from Toledo dated c.1360 in the David Collection, Copenhagen (von Folsach 2001, p. 270 no. 434) and in the fragment of a carved stucco frieze from Spain or North Africa 13-14th century, also in the David Collection (von Folsach 2001, p. 251 no. 400).

    The 14th century was a period of significant construction in Granada under the reign of Muhammad V, including the maristan or hospital, which was built in a prominent part of the Albaicín adjacent to the 11th century bath below the Alhambra walls. Several other large civic buildings, including the New Funduq (or Corral del Carbon) were constructed in the 14th century, which would have included carved wooden beams among its decorative repertoire.

    This lot is accompanied by a carbon dating test.

Saleroom notices

  • The length of the beam is 284 cm.