Battle of Hattin Diorama
The Hattin Diorama
The idea for a diorama first arose during a visit to the Royal Armouries in Leeds by our founders’ grandson, Tareq Nader Rajab in July 2022. Having never seen a diorama before, let alone thought of one, Tareq was entirely captivated and inspired by the Agincourt Diorama built by TmTerrain and Perry Miniatures. Their diorama was built in commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt and consists of 4400 28mm figures on a 4m x 2m board. This visit came at a time where Tareq was planning large renovations of the Tareq Rajab Museum after the summer, which was at that point, in its 42nd year. So, immediately after returning home, Tareq began planning his own diorama. As an Islamic Art museum, the diorama had to link with the rest of the museum and so it was necessary for the battle to be one from Islamic history. So, with his interest in the history of the Crusades, Tareq decided on Saladin’s greatest victory, the Battle of Hattin.
By Tareq Nader Al-Sayed Rajab
After being inspired by the Agincourt diorama at the Royal Armouries in July 2022, I returned to see it a further 4 times to take notes and think of ideas for my own diorama. Having never made a diorama or even painted miniatures before, it was a totally new experience and possibly the reason I wanted to create such a large diorama straight off the bat. Had I had prior experience, I would have understood the mammoth time investment and undertaking ahead and possibly been more apprehensive. Nonetheless, I always make sure to finish anything I start and so stopping half way through was never an option. So, I committed myself entirely to creating the Hattin diorama alongside my work renovating the museum.
My first task was to get some miniatures and just start painting. Although I didn’t have any particular number in mind, I wanted to display the same sense of scale that the Agincourt diorama had and so I knew that there needed to be at least a few thousand miniatures on the board. Little did I know, it would be 14 months until all the painting was complete. Naturally, after being so impressed by the Agincourt diorama, I wanted to use the Crusades line from Perry Miniatures. The Islamic Army miniatures worked well, but the lack of surcoats on their crusader line led me to look elsewhere, and despite still using Perry crusaders, I also incorporated Fireforge miniatures, which worked well, scale wise. Unlike the First Crusade, by AD 1187, surcoats were widely used across the Crusader States and so it was important to include miniatures that were wearing them. By the time December 2022 came around, I had painted hundreds of miniatures, but it was obvious that I wasn’t making enough progress. With my various responsibilities at the museum and with me now building the terrain, I could only spend a short while every evening painting, and so I recruited Lorena C. Manigote, Evelyn R. Siso and Elenita R. Butarbo onto the project. Like me, they had no experience painting miniatures; however, I was able to quickly get them up to speed and teach them the basics, getting the diorama back on track.
Just before this stage, in November 2022, I began the early stages of building the Horns of Hattin. I knew that based on the space available in the museum, the diorama could be absolutely no bigger than 3.5m x 2.4m. I had originally planned for a bigger board, but there was just simply not enough room and had it been bigger, I likely wouldn’t have finished the diorama in time. To start with, there were a number of important considerations. Firstly, how much of the Horns themselves did I want on the board. I decided that being the “Battle of the Horns of Hattin”, I needed both to be visible. However, this meant that the scale couldn’t be entirely accurate, but I was willing to take at least some creative liberties here. Secondly, I needed to analyse photographs of different angles to make the landscape itself as close as possible to the real thing. Thirdly, the terrain itself. There is often a misconception that the Holy Land is a dry, dusty and arid place and while that is certainly true for some parts, it is not the case for the Lower Galilee.
With my sketches ready and a drawn plan of where all the miniatures would go, I began work building the Horns with my father, Nader. At this stage I had watched hours and hours of videos of people making their own diorama’s, taking many notes of how experienced builders did things and what I thought may and may not work for my own build. After this, I set out a step by step way that my father and I would build Hattin and began to work. The first step was to build the overall structure of the board with styrofoam before using rock moulds to create realistic rock formations. At this early stage in construction, it is easy to worry that you did something wrong because it never looks quite right. It isn’t until the next stage, where a layer of plaster is placed on the board that things really start to blend in and come together. This also happens to be where my dad and I made the most mistakes. The board is divided into 6 separate sections and it was not until the very last one that we got our plaster mixture right. Before that, our mixture was drying too quickly, which meant we couldn’t take our time. Although not everything went smoothly, we were through this stage of the build and things were really looking good.
After this, I painted the rocks using a technique known as “leopard-spotting” and we then began spreading a layer of brown grout across the entirety of the board to act as the “soil” for the flocking. With that done, we moved onto undoubtedly the most fun part of the build – the flocking. Here the colours of the terrain really bring the board to life. Layers and layers of coarse and fine flocking create a realistic landscape where upon close inspection, small variations in colours are visible. However, once this was done, something didn’t seem quite right. The terrain was a little too green and wasn’t entirely accurate for a hot July in Lower Galilee, so it needed some adjustments. Sand is a widely available resource in Kuwait, so we went outside, filled a bucket with sand and rocks and spread it across the whole board, which worked absolutely perfectly, toning down the colours and adding a layer of rockiness and dry summer terrain with elements of greenery. Now, the terrain was about 95% complete. From here, I began to add bushes, shrubs, flowers and trees to create another dimension to the board. Of course, it is difficult to be certain of tree formations on the Horns almost 900 years ago; however, there are trees spread across the hills today and so I took a small creative liberty and based my placement on the position of these trees.
The Background & Final Touches
In order the build the diorama to the absolute maximum dimensions I could, I had to sacrifice one side. This meant that people could only view the diorama from three sides instead of being able to walk around it, like those in other museums. Although this was of course initially disappointing, the idea to use the inaccessible side as a window-like background came to mind. A year earlier I had met an Italian artist called Riccardo Scavo, who had recently moved to Kuwait to teach art. Riccardo had a history of painting murals and so in February 2023, I asked him if he would be interested in painting a background for me, which he was. In just 2 days, Riccardo painted a realistic background, using the colours of the board to blend in his landscape. The painted background absolutely completes the diorama.
The total building time for the terrain was 250 hours. Now all that was left was to continue working on the miniatures. All miniatures from Perry Miniatures and Fireforge Games come with bases; however, leaving them on would not look right and so, the bases for each and every miniature was removed and my dad, Nader, drilled tiny holes into their feet and glued in a small pin that would hold the miniature in place on the board. Over 3500 miniatures were drilled to add an extra layer of realism to the diorama. One thing I came to realise is that the number of miniatures never seems to be enough. 100 seems like a large number, but when you put 100 28mm miniatures close together on such a large board, it really looks like very little. And so, time after time I would place large orders for miniatures thinking that it would be the last, only for them to arrive and not look like they were enough. I ended up losing track of the number of miniatures and it wasn’t until I began placing them on the board, that I knew for certain just how many miniatures we had.
The first challenge with the final assembly was how to place all the necessary miniatures on the board without being able to access all four sides. We decided to place the back three boards in the centre, so that they were accessible from the front and the back, before sliding it back towards the wall. Then, one by one, the front three boards were added, and their miniatures fixed in place before moving onto the next one. During this process, it became clear that we had made the board too hard, and it was near impossible to put the pins attached to each miniature through the terrain. We were instead, forced to file down small screwdrivers and try and make a small hole for each individual miniature to fit into. This of course, added a lot of time to the final assembly, which reached over 100 hours alone by the end. As we were adding miniatures to each of the small boards, I was making sure to keep a tally. After many late nights, we finished the day before the museum was scheduled to open and the diorama was sealed behind large panes of glass. That evening, to my surprise, we had come to a grand total of 3499 miniatures. There were still a few hundred extra’s that we did not have time to put on the board, but the next morning, I opened up the diorama and placed number 3500 just before we welcomed guests to our opening. It was an absolute privilege to build something with my own hands and contribute that to my grandparents museum. A lot of passion and thousands of hours were poured into the diorama and after 14 months of work, it was complete. It would never have been possible without help from my father, Nader Rajab, Lorena C. Manigote, Evelyn R. Siso and Elenita R. Butarbo. I am proud of what we built together, but above all, I’m most proud to say that I built this diorama with my dad.