This magnificent gold ring holds a jade stone engraved with religious verses known as the Nad-i 'Ali, an invocation to 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The text is written in mirror reverse, suggesting that the stone may once have served as a seal. Further tiny poetic inscriptions—in cartouches around the golden bezel—contain prayerlike verses, perhaps invested with apotropaic qualities, placed there to ensure the safety of its wearer.
One of a group of metal and jeweled objects attributed to the turn of the sixteenth century, this ring has a flat, light green nephrite stone set into a gold shank that is cast in the shape of two dragons’ heads. The stone is in the form of a seal, with its inscriptions carved in reverse. Inscriptional stone seals of a circular, flat-cut format, divided into halves or quarters and sometimes framed within a square at the center, can be historically traced to the fifteenth century.
Although the dragon-shaped shank and nephrite seal point to Timurid patronage, the content of the Arabic and Persian inscriptions can also link the ring to the early Safavid period. Comparing it to a brass jug in the Museum’s collection (91.1.607, cat. 132), Linda Komaroff argued that this specific Shi‘i invocation to ‘Ali (the only legitimate successor to the Prophet, according to Shi‘is) appears on both works as well as on coins dating to the years 1501–24 of Isma‘il I’s reign. She contended that this invocation is not seen on objects of the Timurid period and is rarely found on works immediately following the rule of Shah Isma‘il. Other scholars, however, believe that it is equally possible for a Shi‘i or even Sunni patron under Timurid rule to have commissioned a ring inscribed with an invocation to ‘Ali. In fact, both Sunnis and Shi‘is were devoted to ‘Ali and—given the increasing wave of sufi beliefs and rituals during the second half of the fifteenth century—it is not unusual for a Timurid object to contain invocations to ‘Ali and other Shi‘i personages. Thus, this ring could tentatively be dated somewhere between the second half of the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth century.
A close reading of the inscriptions has been instrumental in shedding light on the intention and meaning of the ring. The thuluth inscription on the bezel underneath the stone, where it touches the wearer’s skin, most probably contains a reference to the Prophet and adds another talismanic element to the object. Associated with Central Asia for centuries, nephrite (yashm) was highly prized at the Timurid and Safavid courts. It was believed to have apotropaic properties capable of protecting its wearer from harm and the deadly effects of poisons. The dragons that form the gold shank here constitute yet another protective element. These beasts appear frequently as decorative elements in Timurid and Safavid art and were traditionally regarded as symbols of royalty and divine power. When combined with the talismanic content of the many inscriptions, the dragons holding the bezel of this ring strongly suggest that one of its primary functions was to empower the owner and protect him from harm.
Abdullah Ghouchani and Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: On stone in Arabic in thuluth script:
At center of seal:
عزمن لا یموت
Glorified be [He] who will not die.
Surrounding seal, in four segments:
ناد علیاً مظهر العجائبی
تجده عوناً لك في النوائبي
کل هم و غم سینجلي
بولایتك یا علي یا علي یا علي
Call upon ‘Ali, the revealer of miracles made manifest,
You will find him a comfort to you in times of misfortune
All care and sorrows will disappear through your companionship,
O ‘Ali, O ‘Ali, O ‘Ali
Around bezel in Persian in thuluth script:
جانـا نـداي تـرا بجاهسـت کـه حدیـث گویـم عالم هر دو در نگین جانبخش لعل شماست
سلیمان خوان ازین خاتم عالم بود در کفش کــه مهـــر جانـــم هســـت محبـــت سانــم؟
O my Lord! Instead of writing Thy name, I say the following words.
O my soul! In consequence of my love Thy image is everywhere with me.
O my soul! Be as wise in conversation as Solomon. My world and heaven are
in this ring.”
On interior of bezel in Persian in kufic script:
Underneath stone in kufic script:
[ Indjoudjian Frères, Paris, until 1912; sold to MMA]
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Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 134, pp. 196-197, ill. p. 197 (color).