Art in Tunisia

Prehistoric times

Discoveries from the time before the Phoenician colonization consisted mainly of tools in stone and bronze. Excavations have uncovered a number of Phoenician and Carthaginian finds, including masks, amulets, jewelry, oil lamps, ceramics, ivory, glassworks and small statuettes. Of the puny Carthage, virtually no building remains are preserved, only individual objects, tombstones and more.

Roman times

Roman times were approx. 146 BCE. 400 AD More than 200 Roman settlements have been found in Tunisia. The best known and best preserved are Dougga (Thugga), followed by Sbeïtla (Sufetula), Maktar, Bulla Regia, Thuburbo Majus and the huge amphitheater in El Djem. There are also significant remains from Roman Carthage. During this period, unique mosaics were also created for public buildings and private villas as well as a large number of art objects. The foremost archaeological museums can be found in Nabeul, Sfax, Sousse and, above all, in the Bardo Museum (founded in 1888) in Tunis, which contains one of the world’s largest mosaic collections.

Tunisia has long craft traditions

Tunisia has long craft traditions, and Nabeul has been the “pottery town” since Roman times.

Islamic art

The oldest art (600-800s) received impulses from Roman, Byzantine and Eastern traditions; fine examples can be found in the decoration of the mosque in Kairouan. Sabri Mansour and Mahdia have preserved stucco and marble reliefs (the 9th century). During the Fatimids, a relief pattern, unglazed ceramics and glazed objects with geometric and figurative decor were developed. From this period there are also a number of glass works as well as metal lamps. The oldest Quranic texts with Arabic calligraphy (maghribi), date to the 900-1000 century.

From the 18th century you can see a flourishing of pottery, with multicolored tiles and objects decorated with plant ornaments made in strong colors on a white background. The Berbers represent a popular tradition and are especially known for their rugs (Qafsa, Bansart, Kairouan), weaves, embroidery and jewelry in silver and gold, especially in filigree technology. The arts and crafts centers are Tunis, Kairouan, Nabeul and Djerba. The most important collections of arts and crafts can be found in the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

The mosaic dates from the 3rd century

The mosaic dates from the 3rd century. On each side of Vergil are the two mice Clio (history) and Melpomene (tragedy). The mosaic is located in the Bardo Museum in Tunisia.

Modern visual arts

Modern visual arts have been inspired by Islamic art, but also by French culture during the colonial period. Yahia Elturki (1901-69) created the so-called “Tunisian style”, characterized as a naivistic folk style. He was one of the first students at the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis (founded in 1923). European artists were also inspired by Tunisian landscapes and culture on their travels, including August Macke, Paul Klee and Louis Moillet who stayed here in 1914. Among the most famous Tunisian sculptors is Brahim Ksantini (born 1933), who specialized in monumental stone and bronze sculptures, Mahmoud Essalmi (1920–93), Ben Mahmoud, Hachmi Marzouk and Ali Hamrouni.

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