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North Side - N12MS50

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Scrolled palmette decoration with pseudo-Kufic script

A single register of large foliations covers the calathus of the capital. It is overlaid with a dense network of small sideways-turned palmettes, which sprout from the ends of scrolled tendrils. The arms of the volutes are scored with oblique grooves. The underside of the console block is also decorated with two small leaves. This kind of scrolled decoration is widespread, yet here its execution is extremely unusual. In fact the palmette lobes, as also the small, downward-facing leaves which wind round the tendrils at regular intervals, are grooved at the centre. Such grooves are frequently found for example on birds’ feathers, but never on plant motifs.

The same scrolled palmette motifs also recur on the bevelled impost block. Above it, at the top of the impost, runs a frieze imitating an Arabian inscription with pseudo-Kufic characters. Marcel Durliat mentioned the “Moorish whiff” (Durliat 1990, p. 155) that surrounds this work. In fact capital and impost were created as a harmonious ensemble; the stylistic character of the plant ornamentation is clearly derived from motifs of Islamic art. The pseudo-Kufic script presumably represents a direct allusion to the end of Muslim rule in the Holy Land, as represented in the adjacent capital N11MS49. So images from a foreign culture are placed at the service of the sculpture of the cloister in Moissac in a remarkable way.

Durliat M., La sculpture romane de la route de Saint-Jacques. De Conques à Compostelle, Mont-de-Marsan, CEHAG, 1990, p. 274.