[19/March/2004] Handicraft to The Islamic Heritage of Antiquities
Sana`a (Saba)-In the study field of Islamic arts and antiquities, the one on the signatures of the craftsmen and artists found accompanied by the Islamic antiquities and monuments are considered important.
This is because they occupy a distinctive and essential status among all curriculum of eastern and western schools of Islam. This study is to be taken one of Yemenis' aspect involving the signatures of those Yemeni professionals and other craftsmen who as where proud of their artistic works registered their names by different forms and titles.
As this is an initial trial of a specific research, we were careful to accompany it with photographic and drawing specimens that featured their products as evidences of showing their capability and technical talents. Moreover, they were divided into groups as such:-
(1)Skilled on plaster (white) powder
The Yemeni artist depended very much on the white gypsum powder for the decoration of the local buildings. His innovation has been visualized through the use of this substance in the form of such enormous wealth of while-powdered decorations featured in writing, plant-like shapes and technical styles. These had been magnified in places like mosques and various Yemeni schools. It showed the artist's understanding of the secrets behind this substance called locally "Alguss", of which he was able to master for decorative use to a great extent.
Usually "Al-guss" is used in coating the interior walls of Yemeni buildings. From the outside, it is used to cover up the building bricks and stones. Beside it is a coating for such elements in order to acquire for them a familiar pattern that have had matched all divisions of the single building.
Particular portions of any building's walls could also be coated with "Alguss" in order to fill it with precise forms of decorative inscriptions.
The term "Algassas" is applicable on the person using "Alguss", and any one pulling the stones is order to extract from them this substance. This skilled profession at that time was first known in the fourth Hijria century (tenth A.D) when the "gassas" worked in the building of houses, mosques, etc, etc. and "Alguss" construction.
In this research, we enlist the famous "gassasins" who registered their names, or signatures, on their works:-
1-Mohammed bin Abi AlFath:-
He worked the "Mehrab" (the front stand location of the Imam of mosque) related to "Al-Abass Mosque", situated in the "Asnaf" village; a territory out of Sana'a called Khulan-al-Tayal. The artist was from Arhab, and he did this work in the year 519 Hijria (1152 A.D). On both sides of the entering arch of this "Mehrab", the artist; in kufi type of Arabic writing; put his full name. The presentation of such work proved on one hand, that this skilled craftsman was a specialist in the make-up, decorating and golden coloring of "Al-Mahareeb" (plural of Mehrab), whilst on the other hand it is true to call him an expert in such writing style of Arabic language. This is clear from the stripped-line of his writing some versions of Al-Ahzab sura from the Holly Quran.
2- Abdulla bin Abi Al-Futooh:-
In 618 Hijria, this artist did one "Mehrab" made of "Alguss" for the "Ganad Mosque" of Taez province. The date of ending this work (626 Hijria/1/28 A.D.) coincided with the ruling period of Yemen by the last Ayoobi King named Al Mas'oud. His writing was in the forms of stripped-line of "Al-Naskh" type of Arabic language. The first text was the one decorating the front entering arch of the Imam's "Mehrab", consisting of one version of the "Pilgrimage Sura" quoted from the Holly Quran. The other style of plant-form decoration was placed on the middle height of the "Mehrab's" wall, where drawings of tree flowers and roses accompanied one text of certain versions from "Al-Ahzab Sure" quoted from the Holly Quran.
3- Abul-Amad bin Ahmed bin Abi-al-Futooh
and his son Ahmed Abul Samad:-
Both made one "Meharab" made of "Al-guss" substance, and related to the "Big Mosque" of Sana'a in the year 665 Hijria. Both their signatures are till now found immersed on both sides of that "Mehrab" situated at the top of the crown- portion placed on two pillars embracing the "Mehrab". The signatures proved that it was one of the oldest "Mehrab" built in the region (7th.Hijria/ 13th A.D.). However, it was recently re-decorated and re-coated by another layer of "Alguss" substance i.e. some parts related to the body-structure of "Mehrab" were re-decorated; particularly those strips of hand-writings that surrounded its structural block. This renovation was done by another artist around the year 1361 Hijria.
4- Abdul Rehman builders of The foreman:-
He was known one of the most famous craftsmen in "Alguss" craftsmanship. He worked in Yemen during the first mid-phase of the eleventh Hijri century (seventieth A.D.). His "guss" work decoration involved two mosques-the first called "Price Sinbul" in the year 1042, situated in the old city of Dhammar, and the second Imam Ahmed ibn Qassem in Al-Roudha (during 1044-1049 Hijria). The region is known to be in the outskirts of the capital Sana'a. the artist was originally one of the Turkish-born craftsmen working with the labors of Prince Sinbul. The later was known to be favored by the sons of Imam Yehya since that time (1036 Hijria). He was assigned the governor of "wilaiat" Dhammar (i.e. district Dhammar of the Yemeni Imamate), together with, related regions of Osab and Uthma.
It is to be noticed that Abdul Rehman had enormous skill and talents in the technical expertise of "Mehrab" 's decoration. That was identified through additions of the Ottaman's decorative elements; which were introduced by the artist; within his decorative formations. Such elements had appeared more clear in the "Roudha Mosque", and in many of its locations.
5- Mohammed H.Al-Shadhbi:-
This craftsman put his signature on the entering area of "Mahdi Al-She'r Mosque", situated in Barate. The building date of that mosque related to 1140 Hijria. It was decorated with " Al-Naskh" writing form of Arabic language, with the two signatures at the bottom part and the left window's exterior side located towards the exterior wall of the mosque. While the third of his signature was found towards the left side wall facing the "Mehrab". The artist had done a magnificent work of decorative formations made of structures of tree leaves, open sides of sun-flowers, sun-flowers, together with, drawings of circles, stars and triangles fixed all around certain Sura's versions from the Holly Quran.
(2) The Carpenters
In the field of wooden-antiques make-up; either the fixed or portable articles, the Yemeni carpenter had contributed much since the beginning of the Islamic Era. Among whom, we mention here:
1. Ibn Al-Nidham bin Hussain: As a craftsman, he did the Imam seat of Al-Ganad Mosque in Taez (locally known the mosque's Manber). The making of such "manbar" was important because it combined within its design features and style the early Yemeni chairs, or seats, found in mosques such as the "Big" one in Dhammar, "Dhu Al-Ashraq" and Lady bint Ahmed in Jibla, and these constructed at latter periods such as the one designed in the 15th century for the Big Mosque in Ibb.
2. The foreman of carpenters Mohammed Al-Sindi:-
He made in the year 927 Hijria one chair, or a large seat, for the preacher of Prophet Mohammed's Hadeeth and religious guidance. This was related to "Al-Asher Mosque" in Zabid city of Al-Hodeidah province. One on back side of the seat, he put his title of profession and signature. It was made of two levels, and wholly decorated with pearl forms of artistic design. On the upper margin of the chair one written recording of a text was fixed to its sides and back support. This chair, by the order of Prince Shihab-al-Deen, had the style similar to the others adopted during the tenth Hijria century (sixteenth A.D.) i.e. at the ruling time of Yemen by the Ottoman Turks.
3. Haj Abdulla bin Al-Haj Hassan Al-Naajar:- he made a wooden chair which was used for teaching Prophet Mohammed's Hadeeth recalleafter Friday-after noon prayers inside the Mosque of Lady Arwa bin Ahmed in Jibla town. The year of making the chair was in 1803 A.D through an order of the son of Sharef al-Deen the Imam of the Mosque. It was made of a rectangular structure that had three sides which are up-lifted on four wooden supports. The later were extending to the upper margins of the chair, and ending from the bottom with short legs, been designed from their tops with one square drawing pattern that had in it star shapes.
(3) The copper smiths and metal ware craftsmen
The industrial making of metal wares in Yemen became prosperous during the Islamic era, but very scarce signatures were to be found on particular structures due to a number of reasons e.g. certain Yemeni families used to keep the metal antiquities inside their houses, and for their personal use only. Such metals included
Copper, silver, gold and the like. At a latter date of Islamic civilization, some of those craftsmen known by their signatures placed on such objects include the followings:-
1- Hassan bin Abdul Nabi:-
He made one red copper jug, and put his signature on the exterior level of the jug's body. It had a cylindrical shape, with a raised base, and a ball-structure of a lid connected to the handle of the jug through a radically screwed pin. The industrial style of its body was done by malleating, while the handle, the top, and lid were structured through mould-pouring of the red copper metal from which the jug was made.
The jug decoration were composed of continuing strips of 12 knots placed on drawn stands piercing the hollow body of the jug. At their bottoms, were small drawings of roses. Next to that strip another was placed consisting of geometrical decorations which in turn represented continuing pattern of several triangles in one serial. Then, another line of similar triangles followed making them of a total of ten numbers.
2- Ahmed Shaiba:-
Some historical sources mentioned names of some Yemeni architects who supervised the construction of many buildings during the Islamic Era. They include:-
-The building foreman Ali bin Hassan who built the Big Mosque in the year 897 A.D. of Zabid city during the rule period of Sultan Amer bin Al-Taher.
-The Prince Omer bin Othman bin Muhya who had been assigned by the authorities the task of monitoring the works and constructions, such as the entrance gates of Zabid city during the ruling time of Abu Al-Hassan Ali bin Yusuf Al-Rassuli.
These were the specialists in the engraving of different decorative patterns on the stone, as well as, making of inscriptions and written sculptress e.g. the boards of founds of foundation stones, and pillar structures fixed as witnessing indications on the tombs of the dead. They include:
1) Asad bin Hameed: the stone engraver who wrote in the year 614 Hijria himself the witness of the tomb and burial coffin of one governor named Al-Mansoor-bi-Allah Abdulla bin Hamza.
2) Abdulla Sadeeq bin Al-Mitlabi:- he was known skilled in engraving decorative patterns of written texts and sets of shapes, such as hexagonal stars and six-sunny flowers on the stone fixtures of the tombs.