In this article, I want to dwell on the reflections of Abbasid stucco work on Anatolian Seljuk Art by way of Iranian Seljuk art. The origin dates back to Abbasid stucco works with stylized plant motifs from 9th century Samarra, classified by Herzfeld as Group I and II.
The well-known stucco workmanship in Iran, dating back to Parthians, has assumed a new character in Islamic Period through the influence of Samarra. The most dwelled upon group of stucco works from Samarra, the so-called Group I according to the above classification, constitute moulded examples in beveled style, influenced by Eurasian animal style, with stylized full of half palmettes, geometrical scrolls and button-like spots (Fig 1).
Professor Ettinghausen has methodically demonstrated the continuation of this style in Islamic art for several centuries, with remarkable similarities in a very wide field, using different materials like stucco, wood or stone.
Stucco and woodwork at the Tulunid Mosque in Egypt from the 9th century, (Fig. 2) the wooden tie-beams of Al Hakim Mosque in Cairo, dated to 1003, from the Fatimid Period constitute the earliest parallel examples. Various stuccos inside Al-Azhar Mosque are typical for Samarra I. influenced stuccos (970/71) (Fig 3).
One of the first examples of this style in Iran is observed on the impost blocks of Masjid-i-Jum’a in Isfahan (Fig. 4). These impost blocks are dated to the period between 1072 and 1092. The same style persists in Iran until the 14th century with stucco and woodwork.
A typical example combining the styles of the so-called Groups of Samarra, is encountered at Nayin Ulu Mosque, dated to 960, Buyid Period (Fig. 5). The stucco composition with a half palmette and sieve-like, perforated surface appears inside two large scrolls influenced by Classical sources. The scrolls are symmetrically placed at the corners of the stucco mihrab.
The stuccos from the medrese at Rayy, which are presently at the National Museum in Tehran, display characteristics of Group II Samarra stuccos with their perforated backgrounds and stylized vine leaves but the beveled style and stylized half palmettes are typical for Group I Samarra stuccos (Fig. 6).
We observe that stuccos in beveled style have influenced the Anatolian Seljuk Period wood and stone workmanship by way of Iran. We can add some new examples to the known ones. The stone reliefs from the Konya Fortress, mentioned by Dr. Semra Ögel, are of considerable interest (Fig. 7). Here, the curved motifs in beveled style above the crowns of the angel figures bear striking resemblance to Samarra stuccos in beveled style. The stone slabs are presently in the Museum of Ince Minareli Medrese in Konya.
There are numerous other examples of this style in the various details of Anatolian Seljuk figural world. However, a closer study of these details falls beyond the limited scope of this article.
When we study some of the details on the northern portal of the Ulu Mosque at Divriği (dated 1228/29), we can clearly observe the influence of Samarra Group I stuccos. For example, the curving of a half palmette in the form of a bird’s beak, the large, round swelling reminiscent of a bird’s eye and the sloped surface are typical (Fig. 8).
Another example is encountered at the portal of Kale Mosque at Divriği (Fig. 9) Here, the column capital is ornamented with half and full palmettes forming spiralling curves. This composition is definitely influenced by the so-called “Group I” Samarra stuccos, having close resemblance to stuccos of the medrese at Rayy. However, deep carving replaces the beveled style. This work is dated to 1180.
At the portal of Hızır İlyas Türbe at Develi (end of the 13th century), the stone carving forming the arabesque background shows reflections of Group I Samarra style with spirals, volutes and stylized half palmettes (Fig. 10).
Another work where influence of “Group I” Samarra stuccos is noticeable is the portal of Eşrefoğlu Mosque in Beyşehir, dated 1299. The second bordure from the outer edge has a palmette composition in deep relief, surrounded by stylized leaves forming spiralling curves, all reminiscent of the “Group I” Samarra stuccos (Fig. 11).
The ties to Samarra stuccos are not restricted to the above examples. In fact, a close inspection of Anatolian stone reliefs shows that many details in many cases have been influenced by the “Group I” Samarra stucco works by way of Iran. Beveled style also appears in Anatolian Seljuk wood workmanship.
As Professor Ettinghausen also points out, the side panels of the mimbar of the Ulu Mosque of Malatya are typical examples (Fig. 12). Presently, this work, which is dated by Prof. Ettinghausen to the 12th century, is at the Ethnographical Museum of Ankara. Similar workmanship is observed on the side panels of the mimbar of Sare Hatun Mosque in Ermenek, also from the 12th century. In her publications, Dr. Semra Ögel draws attention to this.
In addition to all these examples, we can mention the more complex and developed ornaments in beveled style on Anatolian Seljuk mimbars, and doors, along the bordures or on the side panels. Ulu and Lala Paşa Mosques of Kayseri, Ulu Mosque of Aksaray and Arslanhane Mosque of Ankara are some examples.
In the case of Ulu Mosque of Sivrihisar, it is highly interesting to observe the beveled style on the wooden columns in front of the mihrab, as the ornamentation in this particular case originates wholly from Central Asian tent decorations (Fig. 13). These wooden columns and capitals are most probably from the first construction period of the mosque, that is to say from 1226.
The so-called “Group II” stuccos from Samarra constitute examples with stylized scrolls inside geometrical patterns and leaf motifs having perforated surface, carved instead of being moulded. In this group, designs stand out better with sharper contrast created by shadows (Fig. 14).
The stuccos from 9th-10th century Samanids found at Horasan during the Nishapur excavations by the Metropolitan Museum of Art are the earliest and closest parallels of this type in Iran (Fig. 15). They attract attention with their palmetto leaves resembling stylized bird heads and variations of perforated surfaces. This stucco style has survived in Iran until the 15th century in spite of transformations it has undergone.
For instance, the stucco panels in the 12th century Rayy medrese constitute one of the earliest examples for such works. Here, a variety of stylized leaves with their perforated surfaces form interesting compositions. While some of the leaf decorations are placed within geometrical frames, like the Samarra examples, (Figs. 16, 17), some others spread out in arabesque compositions. Many other examples develop into a complex arabesque web, like —for instance— the ornaments on the side mihrabs of Masjid-i-Jum’a in Ardistan dated to around 1180. (Fig. 18).
The closest, parallel examples of this stucco style outside Iran are found in Egypt, again in Fatimid works. For instance, at Al- Azhar Mosque, the stucco decorations, dated to 1130-1149, on the arches under the dome at the entrance to the transcept show great similarities to Samarra “Group II” and Nishapur stuccos (Fig. 19).
The reflections of this style reaching Anatolia by way of Iran are noteworthy -though limitedin Seljuk Period stucco and stone works. It is possible to detect such influence in the mihrab of Arslanhane Mosque in Ankara. The plant motif and dragon-like decoration at the top of the mihrab, the stucco rosette crowning the niche and the perforated surfaces of the flowers display influence of Iranian stuccos (Fig. 20).
During the excavations made in July, 1970 at the Ulu Mosque of Van, under the direction of Professor Oktay Aslanapa, diverse material was found in the mihrab, the southern and the eastern walls, bearing similarities to stuccos at Masjid-i-Jum’a of Qazwin. The mihrab was earlier published by Bachmann. The new dating of thish work is end of 14th century.
The effects of Iranian stuccos in the so-called “Samarra II” style are also seen in some details of Anatolian Seljuk stone workmanship. On the northern portal of Ulu Mosque in Divriği, it is interesting to note that the stone palmcttes are sometimes placed on perforated surface, reminiscent of stuccos (Fig. 8). Again, at the same portal, the perforated lattice work of the life tree, resembling a large sunflower, appears as a replica of the Nishapur and Rayy stuccos, only with bolder design (Fig. 21).
The arabesque decorations with half palmettes on perforated background at the marble mimbar door of Alaeddin Mosque in Sinop is suggestive of the stucco style developed in Iran. This w ork is presently at the Turkish and Islamic Works Museum in Istanbul. This door has been previously dated to 15th-16th centuries. However, in our opinion, it cannot be later than 13th-14th centuries (Fig. 22).
The presentation of plant design inside geometrical framework is repeated frequently in “Group II” Samarra works and in various stuccos in Iran (Fig. 17). Similarities to these stucco works are noticed in Anatolian Seljuk woodwork. The side panels of mimbars carved in kündekâri technique, the doors and window covers in false kündekâri technique contain various compositions bearing similarities to designs observed on stucco works in Iran, indicating strongly that the origin of such wood workmanship may be Iranian Seljuk stuccos.
The door from Baklacı Baba Mosque in Ankara is an interesting example. Here, false kündekâri technique has been used with the insides of star and lozenge-shaped motifs filled with palmettos and arabesques. (Fig. 23) The masjid is dated to 1297-98 and the door is presently in the Ethnographical Museum of Ankara. Similar examples are numerous in Anatolian wood workmanship.
The influence of bold stucco decorations in baroque character with protruding embellishments, of Iranian origin, is felt strongly in Anatolian Seljuk stone works. The earliest example in Iran with baroque character is the mihrab of Nayin Ulu Mosque, dated to 960 (Fig. 24). Inside the mihrab niche the large, stylized leaves -besides displaying effects of Samarra styles I and II- become pioneers of a new style with their full presentation in high relief. The earliest and most typical examples of baroque style in Iran arc observed in Masjid-i-Haydariya of Qazwin from early 12th century (Fig. 25) and in Gumbadh-i-’Alawiyyan of Hamadan from the end of 12th century. Stylized half and full palmettos draw attention with their perforated surfaces and baroque character. This baroque style is observed in Iranian stuccos in various works until the 15th century. As observed in the mihrab of Masjid-i Haydariya in Qazwin, blue painting in the background is characteristic for these stuccos which were usually painted in their period.
The side mihrab of Masjid-i-Jum’a in Ardistan with its plant motif and ornamental inscription is another example where baroque style has been applied in a more moderate manner. (Fig. 18).
The mihrab of Masjid-i-Jum’a in Veramin is a typical example for stucco decoration in baroque character which is continued during the Mongol Period and becomes more complex and richer in design. (1322-26) (Figs. 26, 40).
The Iranian Seljuk stuccos of baroque character arc definitely the origin of stone workmanship in baroque style encountered in various Anatolian Seljuk works all over Anatolia. The same stylized full and half palmettes, arabesque design and rosettes re-appear in stone carving with some modifications due to change of material.
The complex decorations on the portal of Çifte Minareli Medrese of Sivas, dated 1271-72, and in the front fountain sebil are typical examples. (Fig. 27).
On the façade of Turumtay Türbe in Amasya, dated 1266-67, the baroque decoration with full and half palmettes bears witness to the continued influence of Iranian stuccos. (Fig. 28).
At the portal of Bimarhane in Amasya, the life tree in baroque style is closer to Iranian examples with its large, full leaves and complex composition. This work is dated to 1308-9 (Fig. 29).
The northern portal of the Ulu Mosque and the portal of Darüşşifa in Divriği mentioned earlier are typical examples where baroque decoration is used in an extreme and most liberal manner (Fig. 30). The large medallions, full and half palmettos and life trees have, however, assumed an Anatolian character. The stone mihrab of the Ulu Mosque with its composition of large palmettes is an interesting example reminiscent of Iranian stucco mihrabs having baroque character (Fig. 31).
At Çifte Minardi Medrese in Erzurum, from the end of 13th century, the portal has, in addition to the figural decoration, plant design of baroque character along the side bordures (Fig. 32). Inside the building proper, similar plant design in baroque character appears on the columns and capitals. These can be added to the examples mentioned earlier (Fig. 33.).
The multi-layered stucco workmanship, first developed in Iran, leaves one admiring as we observe their ever-increasing fineness and complexity of design until the 15th century. One of the earliest examples of this type of stucco decoration is seen on the stucco bordures on the walls of the kiosk masjid at Masjid-i-Jum’a in Qazwin from early 12th century (Fig. 34). The complex arabesque under the masterful kufic inscription displays very fine and skillful style. Another early successful example from the same period is found at the kiosk masjid of Masjid-i Haydariya in Qazwin in the form of a stucco bordure with kufic inscription. (Fig. 35).
The decoration with multi-lined inscription at Ardistan masjid constitutes one of the most impressive known examples in this field. (Fig. 36, 37) Kufic and neshi inscriptions stand out over the complex arabesque background with light and shadow contrasts. We can point out the main mihrab of the same work as an example of multilayered, rich craftmanship (Fig. 38).
A well known complex and rich later example, dated 1310, is the Olcayto mihrab at Masjid-i Jum’a of Isfahan. (Fig. 39). As you will note, stucco art attains a more complicated and multi-layered craftmanship during the Mongol Period. The mihrab of Masjid-i- Jum’a in Veramin is another typical example for this development. The dating here is 1322-26 (Figs. 26, 40).
Outside Iran, parallels to this type of stuccos are encountered in Fatimid stuccos in Egypt. For example, the various bordures with kufic inscription in the prayer hall (harim) of As-Sâlih Talâi Mosque clearly reflect Iranian stucco style with the manner they are presented on arabesque background (Fig. 41).
The multi-layered stucco decorations have parallels in Anatolian Seljuk stucco work, in stone work, wood work and even in faience mozaic work. As in Iran, in later works -for instance, in Ilhanid Period works- the examples become finer, more intricate and complex, more diverse and richer in design.
As a major example for stucco works, the stucco bordures with inscription of the mihrab of Arslanhane Mosque in Ankara are typical for multi-layered decoration (Fig. 42). The decoration with neshi inscription on complex arabesque background perpetuates the effects of Iranian stuccos.
We can cite numerous examples among Seljuk Period stone works to demonstrate the effects of multi-layered Iranian stuccos. The most significant -and also most extreme- example is the multi-layered decoration at the northern portal of Ulu Mosque in Divriği (Fig. 30). Inside the full and half palmettes, stars and rosettes, we notice smaller leaves under which a complex arabesque exists. In many places, the decoration is in three layers.
Examples with fewer layers are numerous in Anatolian stone works. The portal of Eşrefoğlu Mosque in Beyşehir, dated to 1299, is one such example. (Fig. 11).
As for wooden elements, there are many highly successful works, particularly on the inscribed bordures of Seljuk Period mimbars and on doors. The inscribed bordures of the minibar of Ulu Mosque from Siirt consitutes a fine example for multi-layered wood workmanship. This work is dated to the beginning of the 13th century and is presently in the Ethnographical Museum of Ankara (Fig. 43).
Multi-layered decorations draw attention even in faience mozaic technique of Anatolian Seljuks. We think that the origin of such decorations is stucco. In such works, lines intersect each other with a false perspective. Various different applications of this workmanship draw our attention, particularly in mihrabs where teachings from Koran (ayets) are presented over a complex arabesque background.
One of the noteworthy examples in this style is the later added faience mozaic mihrab of Külük Mosque in Kayseri. The mosque is dated to 1210. We think the mihrab is from the end of the 13th century. The way the kufic ayet is inscribed over the complex arabesque background points to stucco origin (Fig. 44).
As the major examples we have referred to bear witness, many details with their origin traceable to Iranian Seljuk stucco work can be spotted in various forms of Anatolian Seljuk Art such as stuccos, stone carvings, woodwork and even faience mozaic. In certain cases, the origin extends all the way to Samarra. The traditional development encountered in areas where Turkish Art has emerged is also observed in Samarra, which was founded in the 9th century to accommodate Turkish soldiers. This influence makes itself felt in the form of works reflecting Eurasian animal style.
Despite differences in centuries and in regions, the stucco style originating in Samarra has reflections on works from Iranian Seljuk, Tulunid, Fatimid and Anatolian Seljuk Periods, pointing to highly interesting ties.