Textile: L. 70 1/2 in. (179.1 cm)
W. 35 in. (88.9 cm)
Mount: L. 73 3/4 in. (187.3 cm)
W. 42 1/2 in. (108 cm)
D. 7/8 in. (2.2 cm)
Wt. 53 lbs. (24 kg)
Rogers Fund, 1938
Not on view
The inscriptions on this rare Persian ceremonial banner invoke divine protection and assistance. The lobed medallions enclose quotations from the Qur'an, lauding God as "the best Protector" and "Opener of Doors." Banners such as this were carried into battle, or borne by the faithful in religious processions. They appear in illustrated manuscripts such as the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp and are described by travelers to Iran in the seventeenth century. The name of the maker, Isma'il Kashani, is inscribed in the center of the blue cartouche. The details of the textile indicate careful planning, beautiful execution, and luxury with no expense spared.
This large, luxurious silk banner with sweeping lines of gold calligraphy displays Qur’anic verses that convey assurances of victory for the faithful and invocations to God for protection and assistance. The content of these inscriptions suggests that this textile may have had a military function, to protect and assist the army that carried it, or was perhaps used in religious processions. Similarly inscribed banners from the Ottoman Empire are well published—some were intended to be carried into battle, others to be borne by the faithful on pilgrimage. Surviving Persian banners, however, are extremely rare.
Visual evidence for the presence of inscribed banners in Persia is found from at least the fifteenth century onward. In the early sixteenth century, numerous images of heavily embellished banners—many displaying Arabic inscriptions—appear in battle-scene paintings of the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76). One example, on a folio in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, exhibits a triangular banner with calligraphic invocations similar to those found on the present textile. A century later, the Persian military continued to use inscribed banners, as witnessed by the seventeenth-century French traveler Jean Chardin. While visiting Persia, he observed, "Their ensigns [banners] are cut in points, like our pennons, and are made with all colors and of all kinds of rich fabrics. They have no other ensigns, either for cavalry or for infantry. As legend and in place of a device, they put on these flags their credo, or a quotation from the Qur’an."
In addition to Qur’anic verses, however, this banner also contains inscriptions describing its fabrication. One of them, found in the center of the light blue cartouche, identifies the banner as the work of (‘amal-i) Isma‘il Kashani. Around his name, specially composed verses provide the dates of the weaving of the banner using the abjad system, in which individual letters have numerical equivalents. The letters in a portion of each verse total 1,106 and 1,107, representing the years in which work on the banner was commenced and completed. This careful coordination of dedicatory verse, elegant calligraphy, and intricate weaving reveals the significant forethought and resources lavished upon this masterful textile.
Denise-Marie Teece in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Inscriptions in Arabic and Persian in thuluth and nasta‘liq scripts (from top to bottom):
Top right cartouche: (Qur’an, 37:172–73)
Top left cartouche, in Arabic:
وکفی بالله و کیلاً
And, God suffices for a Guardian
Large central cartouche: (Qur’an 110 and the date 1107)
Small yellow cartouche, in Arabic:
یا مفتح الابواب
O, Opener of Doors!
Central and outer portions, respectively, of two-color cartouche, in Arabic:
عمل العبد اسمعیل کاشانی
Work of the servant Isma‘il Kashani
And in Persian:
رایت فتح آید کردند تاریخ شروع
رایت نصر من الله بهر إتمامش علم ١١٠٧
The banner of triumph, the date of commencement [shuru‘] of work
The banner of God-given victory, the completion of the flag (‘alam) 1107
Bottom cartouche, in Arabic:
یا رفیع الدرجات
O, Sublime of Rank!
Marking: See link panel.
[ E. Beghian, London, by 1931–38; sold to MMA]
Cairo. Musée Arabe Du Caire. "L'Exposition Persane de 1931," 1931, no. 70.
London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 329.
Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 329, p. 201.
Wiet, Gaston. L'Exposition Persane de 1931. Cairo, 1933. no. 70, p. 61.
Harari, Ralph, and Richard Ettinghausen. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. Vol. I-VI. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. ill. v. VI, pl. 1070A.
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. 178, pp. 254-255, ill. p. 255 (color).