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DR. STEFANO CARBONI is currently the CEO of the Museums Commission of the Saudi Ministry of Culture. He has served previously as director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Western Australia (2008-19) and as curator and administrator in the Department of Islamic Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (1992-2008). A specialist in Islamic art (PhD 1992 at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London) he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Western Australia and has taught several courses in Islamic art and museum studies in New York colleges during his tenure at the Metropolitan. Among his many books and articles are the catalogue of the exhibition “Venice and the Islamic World,” 828-1797 (2007); “Glass from Islamic Lands - The Al-Sabah Collection,” Kuwait National Museum (2001); and “The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Ilkhanid Painting: A Study of the London Qazvini” (2015). Born and raised in Venice, his studies and career brought him to work and live in the UK, Egypt, USA, Australia and presently in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: they span curatorship, international exhibitions, research, authorship, public lecturing, academic teaching and museum leadership and strategies, this latter being the focus in his present role.
The ‘Berber’ Minbar at Ithra and its Historical and Art Historical significance
One of the most distinctive furnishings in the mosque is the minbar or pulpit, a stepped staircase placed at the right side of the prayer niche as seen by the worshipper facing the qibla. The current exhibition Shatr al-Masjid includes a recent acquisition of the Ithra Collection, a three-step Berber minbar reputedly produced in Central Morocco in the 18th century.
The tradition of making wood minbars in the Maghrib and Andalusia is among the highest accomplishments of patrons, artists, designers and craftsmen across many centuries. This is evident not only from the partially extant monumental minbars such as those from the mosques in Kairouan, Fez, Nedroma and Algiers, culminating with the “wonder of the age”, the minbar from the Kutubiyya mosque in Marrakesh, but also from many original sources, such as those describing the now lost pulpit from Cordoba. All minbars created for mosques around the Islamic world stem from the stepped stool of the Prophet Mohammed (ﷺ) in Medinah, who had one made in order to be better elevated and heard by his expanding community. The hadiths report that it was made of tamarisk wood by a slave carpenter and had two steps, a seat, back and finials for the Prophet to rest his hands. Maliki theologians in the Maghrib must have interpreted the mobility of the original minbar of the Prophet as one of its most important features: they are on wheels and set on tracks so that they are pulled in and out of a closet at the right side of the mihrab, thus disappearing when not in use and reappearing when the khutba is delivered on Friday. The Berber minbar in the exhibition is no exception to this rule. The presentation will focus on this new acquisition and put it into its historical and art historical context.