chapter  8
28 Pages

Deacon or Drink: Some Paintings from Samarra Re-examined

WithDavid Storm Rice

The central architectural feature in the superb palace erected between 221-5/836-9 by al-Mutasim at Samarra—the Gausaq Haqani—consists of four T-shaped basilical halls arranged to form a crutch-cross round a domed chamber. The southernmost of these basilical halls opens on the harem-court, and across this court it faces the principal room of the harem—the domed chamber—in which the famous frescoes were found. The vineyard of the woman’, a locality surely well-known to the ninth-century inhabitants of Samarra, defies precise localization. Ernst Herzfeld surmised that the pictures represented priests, knights and women and he called the vessels on which they had been painted “Picture-columns”. He also conjectured that the Kufic inscriptions painted on some of the pieces were artists’ signatures. Although none of the larger paintings discovered at Samarra are signed, Herzfeld explained the Kufic writing on the Bildsaulen as master signatures.