Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In the Louvre Galleries

Following on the visit to London of our Berlin colleagues, Dr Julia Gonnella and Simone Struth, in February, a joint trip to Paris was planned and kindly arranged by Dr Charlotte Maury. She had already provided us with an illustrated list of the Herzfeld material (pottery, steatite, glass, mosaic tesserae) despatched from the British Museum in 1922. This shipment was sent in exchange for a collection of comparative material excavated in the Islamic levels at the Iranian site of Susa or Shush in Khuzestan, formerly the Elamite capital, which lies to the east of the major Iraqi sites of Babylon, Kish and Nippur. The Louvre collections also hold 104 carved plaster fragments, most of which would appear to have been found in Samarra, some of which are illustrated in Herzfeld's archives in the Smithsonian and published in Henry Viollet's 1911 publication, Un palais musulman du IXe siècleCharlotte proved to be a most enthusiastic guide and endlessly patient with all our questions.

In the Louvre Galleries. From left to right: Charlotte Maury, Julia Gonnella and Simone Struth

We met in the Louvre on Tuesday 29 April, when the museum was closed to the general public, so once we had emerged from the depths of their reserves, where most of the material is kept, it was a delight to have the Islamic galleries entirely to ourselves - although navigating the route to the museum was complicated by the heightened security imposed by the President's visit to the inaugural exhibition of the 'Louvre Abu Dhabi' (see here for details).

A mixture of red porphyry, yellow stone and some gold leaf-coated stone tesserae together with multicoloured glass millefiori tile fragments

Red porphyry tesserae, some of which were rounded rim fragments, indicating that these are recycled bowl fragments

Crude mosaic fragment with glass tesserae (some with gold leaf) embedded in a gypsum plaster base (accession no. OA7735/54). Unfortunately this does not have a Herzfeld
 I-N locus number.

There is apparently no record indicating who chose the 'representative collection' which was sent to the Louvre. Three media are conspicuously absent: wood, carved stone architectural pieces, and painted plaster. New aspects are revealed every time we delve into the Herzfeld collections. Many of the Louvre's tesserae are stone rather than glass. The red stones must be porphyry, and the yellow stones may be some form of chalcedony. Both need to be positively identified. A closer inspection of the red pieces revealed the rounded profile of a rim, indicating that these once belonged to a vessel, perhaps recycled as mosaic after breakage. The collection also includes several pieces of gypsum plaster with tesserae embedded in them, revealing a rather crude application. Unfortunately none of these have a Finds Journal number indicating their original find spot.

Lunch break at a traditional French restaurant.
From left to right: Simone Struth, Julia Gonnella and Yannick Lintz

Lunch in a traditional French restaurant behind the Louvre was a welcome break, hosted by Dr Yannick Lintz, the new Director of the Islamic Department. She is equally enthusiastic about the Samarra Finds project and graciously agreed to help us in our quest to bring all the information together digitally.

Seminar in the Université de Paris I.
Julia Gonnella being introduced by Alastair Northedge

The following evening we all met up again for a seminar organised by Professor Alastair Northedge at the Université de Paris I. He had invited Julia to present to his postgraduate students the talk that she had presented in Doha in 2011 (now published in the volume Godis Beautiful and Loves Beauty, edited by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom)Several of his students are working on different aspects of Samarra's architecture and decoration: Fatma Dahmani on the wall paintings; Vanessa Rose on the tiles; Iraqi architects Emad al-Faraj and Ahmad al-Gribaoui on the architecture. Following this, we repaired to a nearby café for refreshments and to continue our Samarra discussions until the proprietors were no doubt wishing we would exhaust the topic and go home! 

Rosalind Wade Haddon

No comments:

Post a Comment