The palace-city of Madina al-Zahra in Spain was built in 936 CE under the Caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman III in a hillside at the base of the Sierra Morena. This location, some distance from Cordoba in a lush and well-watered landscape, lends to the complex being functionally more diverse and self-sufficient than its predecessors. Though excavations at the site began in 1910, still only about 10 percent has been properly explored. It is a significant site as one of few royal palace-cities that were not built over in later years (Ruggles 2002 pp. 53).
This item is a circular terracotta stamp, roughly 13 cm in diameter, possibly for leaving an image upon bread. Cast from a mould, it has a sunken figural image in the center, and a banded rope frame around the central image, with another geometric motif along the outer edge (Fig. 1). When pressed into bread, before the leavened loaf would have risen, a relief design would have been left as indicated by the picture of a cast made from the stamp below (Figure 2). The reverse is crudely molded by hand, with several finger prints remaining, and a small square handle was affixed. The central image shows a large bearded figure being grasped around the midriff by a smaller man who appears to be running. A satyr stands in the background holding what appears to be a club.
By Gaby Hick
This week in class we focused on the sculptures found in the Cycladic Islands of the southern Aegean: the collection of art known as Early Cycladic figures. After reading several analyses that hypothesize about the figures’ form, context, and overall meaning, we discussed in our small group sections our observations and our own theories about the works. Why are there a vast number of figures understood to be female, and so few depictions of the male form? Perhaps, as was suggested in my section, women had a significant role in the mourning rituals during the Early Cycladic era, a view supported by the vast majority of the figures found in graveyards. Why, of the five figures depicting red lines on the face, are four significantly larger in size? We discussed in my section that, if the red lines are meant to be a pictorial representation of the historically controversial practice of women scratching their cheeks until they bleed as a symbol of grief, perhaps the larger figures depict more important women. Maybe we are analyzing sculptures of dead queens.