The palaces of Samarra are well known for their architectural ornament. The Abbasid dynasty of Iraq discovered the Samarra on the banks of Tigris in 836. The decoration has been used in an imperial capital for many decades. Excavations and surveys reveal that the Samarra palace and other structures that are found at the site had decorations from the interior with repeated vegetal patterns. Most of the early publications brought forth the Samarra art to the architectural world. The most significant publications were done by a German artist Ernst Herzfeld who carried the first major excavation of the site.
The ornament can be divided into two parts. The watercolors of the wall paintings found at the site and the line drawings of carved stucco wall panels that are excavated at the site. Herzfeld, the designer, made these depictions after his excavation of Samarra from 1911 to 1913 just before the publication of his catalogs.
In Matthew D. Sabas ornament, the groups of watercolors depict Samarra wall paintings that are examples from the early stages of the Herzfelds works. Herzfeld made copies of the pictures using the tracing papers and pasted the cutouts together on larger sheets to reconstruct the original composition of the ornament. The reconstructed structure showed the frieze comprising of the vine scroll encapsulating water buffaloes, antelopes, and lions. The reconstructions were then published alongside a similar fragment as a color a plate.
The project is given a timely renewed scholarly interest in the archaeological materials representing the watercolors. These materials have been used to create the Samarra paintings based on the review of the archeological evidence that was considered by a team the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In the painting, Saba reveals the comparison between the fragments and the initial colored-pencil drawing of it preserved in the Mets collection. Unlike the paintings of Herzfeld, which were true of the materials, the paintings of the Matthew Saba deviate in certain manners from the original decorations. The initial pictures were regular, and even, the Saba decorations are lighter, and a freer hand. The painting is seen to have red dots that in the middle of the lozenges that overlap with black lines.
Like the original paintings, The Ornament of the Main Caliphal Palace of Samarra includes some of the lines of drawing that that were later published by the Herzfeld. Matthews pictures are a documentation of the initial work that they were first done by Herzfelds process of working.
Samarra architectural ornament, since its decoration has received considerable attention more so from its carved stucco wall panels due to their abstract designs. The Samarra architecture was identified by Herzfeld to have three styles of carved ornaments. The successors of Herzfeld adopted the triple typology, something that arose some debates among the ancient architectures who appeared to have studied these techniques.
Sabas decorations, however, differs from other works in that it failed to address the fragments of walls, doors, and the ceilings. These are usually studied as individual components of the sites. In museum displays as well as scholarly articles, each example always stands out as a complete masterpiece or serve as independent indicators of early architecture. Samarra decorations are best appreciated by understanding the designers original intention as well as what they wanted their viewers and the audience to see.
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