The Battle of Karbala

2 August 2010

I encountered this painting in the Brooklyn Museum of Arts, a wonderful, eclectic museum. A bit like a mall, just as the Met. It has a nice ethnographical collection, and I’m a sucker for that. It depicts the battle of Karbala, a very important historical event in the history of Shiism. It’s also know as an important example of chivalry, and self-sacrifice

These kinds of paintings (and there are many more just like it) were used by travelling story tellers.  The canvas could be stored by rolling it around a pole, and could be deployed in the main square of the town. Don’t be fooled by the pictorial qualities and perceived lack of perspective: this work is from the end of the 19th century.

Iman Husayn was the grandson of Muhammed (theimam

The main scene depicts Husayn’s half-brother Al-Abbas ibn Ali killing a random soldier. Note the water skin in the lower left corner. Legend goes that Husayn’s army was cut off from the river Euphrates, and they could not find any other sources of water for at least a day. During the battle, Abbas penetrated the enemies blockade in order to get some supplies for his brother. He managed, and legend goes that he filled his skin, but did not drink any, for he wanted it only for his brother. Legend also goes that he lost both arms during his return, and that he carried the skin between his teeth. Before he arrived however, it was punctured (visible through the water spray) by an arrow. A few moments later, he was thrown from his horse by a hit on the head. His last wish was that his body would not be returned to camp, as he had promised to bring back water and didn’t want to return without success.

*** Technical

Stitched together in Photoshop from 16 smaller pictures. I did this because I had to take the pictures from a grazing angle to avoid reflections from the display lights. After that, compensated from lens and perspective distortion. The upside is the resolution of the final result : a whopping 9795 x 4612. However, this is misleading as there is not enough detail in the picture to justify that. The main reason for that is that I shot on a high ISO range, and try to mask the noise with a strong bilateral filter with a big threshold (smart blur in Photoshop). It would have worked with just decreasing the resolution, but it does add a bit to the painterly quality of the picture. Probably I could have spend that time better by making sure the brightness was better matched between the different scenes. Oh well…