Arabic Inscription (on the outer border in thuluth script): Qur'an 9:18-22
Arabic Inscription (framing the niche of the mihrab containing hadith of Prophet Muhammad in kufic script): "Said [the Prophet] (on him be blessing and peace): . . . witness that there is no God save Allah and that Muhammad is his Apostle and the Blessed Imam, and in legal almsgiving, and in the pilgrimage, and in the fast of Ramadan, and he said, on him be blessing and peace."
Arabic Inscription (at the center of the niche in thuluth script): "The Prophet (may blessings and peace be upon him) said: The mosque is the abode of every believer."
This prayer niche, or mihrab, was originally set into the qibla wall of a theological school in Isfahan, now known as the Madrasa Imami, built just after the collapse of the Ilkhanid dynasty. The mihrab was created by joining a myriad of cut glazed tiles to produce its intricate arabesque and calligraphic designs. The result is one of the earliest and finest examples of mosaic tilework. A splendid work of religious architectural decoration, this mihrab is one of the most significant works in the Museum’s collection.
This prayer niche, or mihrab, was originally an architectural element in a theological school (madrasa) in the city of Isfahan. An inscription in the courtyard of this former school, now known as Madrasa Imami, is dated to the year A.H. 754/1354–55 A.D. The madrasa was built shortly after the collapse of the Ilkhanid dynasty, when rival Injuids and Muzaffarid leaders competed for control over Isfahan. The qibla wall, which is now whitewashed, was originally graced with this monumental and impressive mihrab. It was produced by joining together a myriad of cut-to-size glazed tiles to produce the intricate arabesque and calligraphic designs.
Created predominantly with tiles of contrasting dark blue and milky white glazes, the mihrab has additional turquoise, ocher-yellow, and dark green colors that enrich the complex geometric, vegetal, and calligraphic patterns. The decorative achievement, combined with the challenge of creating a three-dimensional work that includes a deep, rounded niche with pointed vault, makes this one of the earliest and finest examples of mosaic tilework to survive. Inscriptional bands reflect the careful planning of the decorative program: the outer frame bears a Qur’anic inscription in white muhaqqaq script, in which words and letters progress in two superimposed lines from the bottom right to the bottom left (Qur’an 9:18–22), while an inscription in kufic script containing sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (hadith) frames the pointed arch of the niche and is set in blue against a white background, rhythmically punctuated by continuous vertical letter endings. The most legible words are inside the rectangular cartouche at the center of the niche: ocher-yellow inscriptions in kufic script mentioning the prophet are followed by a clear, larger, cursive white reference to the function of the mosque.
This prayer nich underwent a series of restorations and relocations before it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum. The mihrab was removed from the Madrasa Imami in the late 1920s, after skillful local potters had provided extensive (and almost undetectable) restoration in the area below the central inscription. Shipped to Philadelphia and stored in the University Museum there, it also spent some time in London, where it was shown at a legendary exhibition of Persian art at Burlington House in 1931. The Metropolitan eventually purchased it in 1939.
Now displayed as a splendid example of religious architectural decoration of Iranian Islamic art, the mihrab of the Madrasa Imami is one of the most significant and noteworthy works in the Museum’s collection.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. For a summary of the mihrab’s history, see Carboni and Masuya 1993, p. 36, no. 31.
Inscription: Large inscription in Arabic in muhaqqaq script on outer border: (Qur’an.9:18–22 )
Inscription in Arabic in kufic script framing the niche:
قال علیه الصلوة والسلام بنى الاسلام علی خمس شهادة ان لا إله إلا الله وأن محمداً رسول الله
واقام الصلوة وإیتاء الزکوة و الحج و صوم رمضان وقال علیه الصلوة و السلام من بنی لله
مسجداً ولو بمفحص قطاة علی التقوی
He [the Prophet], blessings and peace be upon him, said: “Islam is built on five
attestations: there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God,
he established prayer and the giving of alms and the pilgrimage and fasting of
[the month of] Ramadan.” And he [the Prophet], blessings and peace be upon
him, said: “Whoever builds a mosque for God, even the size of a sand-grouse
nest, based on piety, [God will build for him a palace in Paradise].” (The Muslim reader can complete the phrase with the latter part of the sentence).
Inscription in Arabic in kufic and thuluth scripts at center of niche:
قال النبي علیه الصلوة والسلام/ المسجد بیت کل تقي
The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said:
“The mosque is the abode of the pious.”
Madrasa Imami, Isfahan, Iran (1354–late 1920s); [ A. Rabenou, Paris, by 1931–39; sold to Arthur U. Pope for MMA]
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