Marble panel with an octagons modular pattern
Square panel carved in low bas-relief, corresponding to the lower right corner of a wide panelling framed by an epigraphic band in kufic script. The decoration of the main field is composed of a modular pattern with octagons filled in with incised vegetal motifs, and alternated with a vegetal pattern. The latter is made of opposing pairs of trilobated and interlaced half-palmettes containing a fleur-de-lis, and converging in groups of four towards a knot inscribed in a square pattern. The inscription is cut off in its upper part and remains undeciphered. The main pattern has been carefully planned, with a geometric grid underlying the composition, and its carving has been precisely executed in flat bas-relief, animated by the different depth and obliquely carved outline of the octagons. Only the incised details of the vegetal elements and the motifs within the octagons show peculiarities that suggest a free-hand execution. This panel was found in 1958 re-employed in the ziyara Sultan Ibrahim, the small mausoleum that stands on the site of Mas‘ud III’s palace in Ghazni, together with other marbles (see No. 3). Several other panels belonging to the same panelling were unearthed by the Italian archaeologists during the excavations of the palace –one of which possibly matches this panel (now in the Museum of Oriental Art in Rome, inv. no. 8423); some others, apparently similar, were found elsewhere in the Ghazni area. This assemblage, comprising 19 fragments and complete artefacts, indicates that the original panelling had an outlined upper stepped, continuously framed by the epigraphic band in kufic script, and that it was no less than 1,5-2 m tall. The deciphered part of these inscriptions, in Arabic, contains a historical reference. These evidences - including the retrieval of the artefacts in the palace, the stepped form of the panelling, its considerable height and the possible content of the text - suggest that its original positioning was in one of the ceremonial halls of Mas‘ud III’s palace (possibly in the throne room). Such a dating in the early 12th century (see No. 4) also fits with the parallel of the motifs within the octagons, also found on a tomb dated 503 H. / 1109 CE. The overall appearance of the original panelling would be suited for a ceremonial hall, as it would have been that of a hanging tapestry or textile – a cherished effect in Islamic architectural decoration, here achieved through the decoration of the main field and enhanced by the polychromatic effect of the originally painted surface. Brickwork and stucco fragments retrieved from the throne-room would have completed its architectural decoration. Marble was variously employed in the palace: plain, for the paving of the main court; carved, for the dadoes (in the entrance area and along the main court, see No. 2), the bases of columns in the prayer hall, the balustrades and small arches (see Nos. 3, 4), the high rectangular or stepped panelling, as well as the water system elements (basins and well curbs). Large brickwork panelling, also with stucco inserts, was mainly employed in the upper part of the walls (see Nos. 9-12). The pattern of octagons alternated with vegetal knots was wide-spread in Ghazni, where a variant of this panelling is attested. It has no parallels in Islamic art in the 11th-12th century, but a similar pattern, with stars in place of the octagons, was found on a wall painting in Lashkari Bazar, probably dating to the Ghurid period (12th-13th cent).