This tile is one in a series which probably once formed a glittering inscriptional frieze encircling the walls of a 14th-century tomb pavilion located in Natanz, Iran. The cobalt-blue inscription is set against a field of scrolling vines, wherein tiny birds perch amongst leafy foliage, some alighting upon the letters themselves. The frieze likely sat close to eye level, permitting the intricacies of the tile's drawing to be admired, while crowning a dado of equally opulent star- and cross-shaped tiles.
Elegant calligraphy in thuluth script graces the central band of this large, intricately decorated tile. Executed in low relief, the cobalt-blue glazed inscription is set against a field of scrolling vines, where tiny birds perch among leafy foliage—some alighting upon the letters themselves.
The theme of birds in vegetation is continued in the smaller band above, which contains a series of confronted birds between small plantings. Appreciable both from a distance and upon closer examination, the bold, sweeping lines of calligraphy stand in sharp contrast to the detailed rendering of the inhabited background, finished in a gold luster glaze with touches of turquoise. This tile was probably one in a series that formed a glittering inscriptional frieze encircling the interior walls of a fourteenth-century tomb pavilion located in Natanz, Iran. The frieze sat close to eye level, crowning a dado of equally opulent star- and cross-shaped tiles. This tomb pavilion was erected in honor of Nur al- Din ‘Abd al-Samad, a shaikh of the Suhrawardiyya sufi order. Shortly after ‘Abd al-Samad’s death in about 1300 construction began on a tomb complex in his honor in Natanz, a city located a few miles north of Isfahan. The complex soon became a shrine that pilgrims visited to pay homage to the shaikh.
Upon entering the tomb, a visitor would have encountered walls covered with carved stuccowork and luster-painted tiles, including this piece. Other similarly inscribed and decorated tiles, also attributed to ‘Abd al-Samad’s tomb pavilion, contain Qur’anic verses from Sura 76, passages that describe the rewards awaiting the worthy in Paradise. This tile, however, contains an Arabic inscription with the date A.H. 707, said to mark the year in which work was completed on the tomb.
Denise-Marie Teece (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in thuluth script:
شوا[ ل سنة سبع وسبعمایة[
[Shawwa]l of the year A.H. 707 [A.D. March 24–April 22, 1308]
Shrine of Nur al-Din 'Abd al-Samad at Natanz, Iran (from 1308)
Emile Rey, New York (until 1912; gifted to MMA)
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