Opus Sectile Art of the Mamluks

Eman Shokry Hesham

Opus Sectile Floor Decoration of the Madrasa of Al-Maini in Damietta, Egypt (1450 AD). It is considered as one of the finest opus sectile floors from the Mamluk Period in Egypt (1250-1517 AD).

This project represents an ongoing research project which focuses on the opus sectile floor art from the Mamluk period in Egypt (1250-1517 AD), which has not yet been scholarly explored and investigates, among other aspects, its stylistic characteristics and origins as a means of understanding the Mamluk decorative concepts. The motivation why this discussion is crucial is that it explores for the first time the history of opus sectile as floor decoration and its unexplained emergence—or re-emergence— in Medieval Mamluk Egypt. The lack of physical evidence of opus sectile as floor decoration from Late Antiquity and the preceding Fatimid and Ayyubid architecture in Egypt (between 700 and 1250 AD), i.e. lack of local explanations has several interpretations to be examined. This project discusses potential hypotheses; from the transregional influence of art and architecture or local continuity of style and craftsmanship of opus sectile—despite the lack of existing remains thereof. The first objective is to contribute to the theories of intercultural and transregional exchange and knowledge transfer across the Mediterranean and enhances our knowledge about cultural exchange between Europe and the Islamic world. Furthermore, it detects mobility modes of art during the Late Medieval period across the Mediterranean that contextualizes the Mamluk architectural decorations. Objective 2 is to document and understand the Mamluk opus sectile design concepts and reflect on their overall layout. While the project focuses on two case study objects in Cairo from the Mamluk period, the project demonstrates about ten opus sectile Mamluk floors in Egypt with other Medieval examples from the Mediterranean for comparison. Besides comparative studies of architectural decoration examples, the project also uses it to investigate the travel of traditional contemporary patterns from other media such as decorative arts of books, woodwork, metalwork, and textile.




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