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The Doha Hind: A Metal Masterpiece

11 June 2024

By Dr. Mounia Chekhab Abudaya

This deer-shaped fountainhead, on view at the Museum of Islamic Art, was made for a splendid palace in Al-Andalus in the 10th century CE, during the caliphate of the Umayyads of al-Andalus.

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From the 8th to the 11th centuries CE (2nd to 5th centuries AH), the Umayyad Emirate and then the Caliphate of Al-Andalus marked a significant period in the history of Islamic architecture, characterised by a fusion of diverse cultural influences and innovative design principles.

The Umayyad dynasty, originating from Damascus, Syria, established its rule in Al-Andalus (modern-day Spain and Portugal) after the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 CE (92 AH). Under the reign of their successors, Al-Andalus flourished as a center of Islamic civilisation, witnessing remarkable advancements in various fields, including architecture.

Between 940 and 1010 CE (330 and 400 AH), the focus of power was Madinat al-Zahra, a palace city near Córdoba, constructed by 'Abd al-Rahman III. This period witnessed the construction of grand palaces, mosques and fortifications, establishing the city's reputation for opulence and refinement. The art created in Madinat al-Zahra reflected a blend of Mediterranean flavours, taking inspiration from both Spain's local traditions and the cultural heritage of the Umayyads' homeland in Syria.

At the heart of the palace's courtyards, built in the 10th century CE (4th century AH) under the patronage of the Caliph, lies a marble basin decorated with fountainheads shaped like different animals. Among them, one stands out – an exquisite fountainhead resembling a hind, a female red deer. Known as the Doha Hind, this masterpiece is celebrated for its beauty and its significant associations with other sculptures from the Western Mediterranean.

Craftsmanship at its Finest


The animal's posture appears natural, with the body formed in one piece using the lost-wax method.

The animal's body was cast in one piece of bronze using the lost-wax technique, with the base made separately. The animal's stance is naturalistic, resting slightly on its haunches with its head raised and ears pricked, oval-shaped eyes and a gaping mouth while the face is extremely stylised. This may represent a domesticated animal, perhaps from a royal menagerie.


The animal's surface features a pattern of half-palmettes within circles, along with a braided mane and a raised eight-rayed star on its forehead. Photo © Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

The entire surface of the animal is incised with a repeated pattern of half-palmettes within circles, with a plaited mane and raised eight-rayed star motif in the center of its forehead. Its decoration gives the impression that the animal is covered in a sumptuous tasselled textile. This piece demonstrates the rich craftsmanship of the Umayyads of Al-Andalus.

The opening of the hind’s mouth suggests its function as a fountainhead. Given the absence of an opening directly into its belly or a pipe leading into its mouth, it appears that water would have passed directly from a pipe into the pedestal and then through the legs and into the body before leaving through the mouth.

Royalty and Artistry

Luxury goods in Caliphal Spain – metalwork, ivories, silks and marble – were commissioned largely by royalty, suggesting that a member of the Spanish Umayyad elite would have ordered this hind. Indeed, a similar example in the shape of a stag has been found in the ruins of Madinat al-Zahra.

As part of a larger collection of metal animals attributed to Spain and southern Italy, including the Pisa Griffin (in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Pisa) and the Mari-Cha Lion (on view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi), the Doha Hind stands as a symbol of artistic ingenuity and cultural heritage, inviting visitors to marvel at its timeless beauty and historical significance.

Dr. Mounia Chekhab Abudaya, Senior Curator for North Africa and Iberia, MIA.

See It In Person

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The Doha Hind in the foreground and a series of stone capital Madinat al-Zahra and painted wooden beams from Cordoba

The Doha Hind is on view in Gallery 8 at the Museum of Islamic Art. Plan your visit today to see it in person, along with other highlights from the permanent collection.

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