Islamic Europe, Iberian Peninsula, Almohad Caliphate to Nasrid Dynasty-era, ca. 12th to 14th century CE. One of my absolute favorites, a gorgeous pair of window lintels, made of a thick layer of carved plaster/stucco over brick, giving the appearance of an elaborate marble surface. Each forms a square corner, long on the vertical side and shorter on the horizontal side, with a recessed decorative arch and border on the interior. The raised portions are carved to have repeated relief four-pointed stars set into square borders which radiate in two rows out and down from the corner. Low on the recessed border are columns with a relief braided texture, surmounted by a square border with interior four-pointed star. Above those, the curved arches have floral, fluted, and draped motifs, giving the impression of a curtain that is drawn aside and held in place with a decorative boss. Size of one: 2.65" L x 15.5" W x 35" H (6.7 cm x 39.4 cm x 88.9 cm)
This style of architecural decoration is most famous from the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, but can also be seen in alcazares and alcazabas (two types of Moorish fortresses) throughout Spain and Portugal, as well as in elite domestic architecture from the same time period. This matched pair is exemplary of the style, with repeated geometric forms adhering to the Islamic rule of not depicting living animals or people in art. The dramatic relief carving in plaster, known as "yeseria", was made by lining a base material - brick, timber, stone - with gypsum-based plaster/stucco that they then carved into form before it solidified. Salt or calcium carbonate was often added to the plaster to slow its setting and allow more intricate carving. Around 1302, the technique changed from carving everything to molding some parts of the plaster, so some portion of this example may be molded rather than entirely carved - it is very difficult to tell! After the plaster set up, the surface would be whitewashed. If you look at the back of each lintel, you can see evidence for this being done in the form of thick brush strokes. Based on similar known window arches and other decorative plasterwork from this tradition, the lower relief areas may have been painted bright blues, reds, or greens, or it may have been left whitewashed - Islamic artists loved to play with shadow, light, and color effects.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-private Upstate New York, USA collection, acquired in the 1980s
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Both are intact, with wear commensurate with age, including nicks and chips from the surface. Deposits on surface but form is still clear.