This tile once formed part of a mihrab, or niche, facing Mecca, toward which prayer is directed in mosques. The inscription at its top includes a Qur'anic reference to the mihrab’s function, and provides the date of the tile’s manufacture in the fourteenth century. This surrounds the modeled vine and tendril motif executed with touches of black and turquoise. We must imagine that the interior walls of the building containing this mihrab were once covered in similar tiles, as was common during the Ilkhanid period in Iran.
With its unusual pointed arch shape and Qur’anic inscription, this large-scale tile with interlacing vegetal decoration likely formed part of a mihrab—a niche indicating the direction of prayer within mosques and other sacred structures. Surviving mihrab assemblages incorporating similarly shaped tiles are found in museum collections throughout the world; still others remain in their original architectural context. Complex, puzzlelike configurations, these tile panels were specially designed commissioned works, carefully fitted for installation into specific locations.
Many extant tile panels of this type were produced by a family of potters sharing the nisba Kashani, indicating their origins in the city of Kashan—a traditional center for Persian ceramic production. From the early thirteenth to early fourteenth century, the patriarch of this family, Abu Tahir, and his descendants produced several mihrab tile groupings for mosques and major shrines in the region. In form and content, some of the individual tiles in these assemblages are analogous to the Museum’s example.
While the tiles that this family produced were almost without exception luster-glazed, this one is not. Rather, it is one of the few extant underglaze-painted mihrab tiles. With its simple, fresh palette of bright cobalt blue and white with touches of turquoise, its closest parallel is a tile in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, also executed in an underglaze technique. Roughly the same size and shape as the Metropolitan’s piece, the Cairo tile displays a somewhat similar vine scroll design and calligraphic script. The Cairo niche tile is joined to two other panels, one containing an inscription referring to the grouping as a mihrab, and stating that it was ordered (‘amara) by ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib ibn Abi Nas[r] in A.H. 719/1319–20 A.D. The Metropolitan’s tile, displaying a date of A.H. 722/1322–23 A.D., was produced shortly thereafter. While neither the Cairo group nor the Metropolitan’s tile can be securely attributed to the Abu Tahir family of artists, both survive as testaments to the long-lived tilework mihrab tradition established in the region by this multigenerational line of potters.
Denise-Marie Teece in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
3. Carboni and Komaroff 2002, pp. 199, 270, no. 125, and p. 128, fig. 152.
4. For more on the family and the various works that they produced, see Watson, O[liver]. "Abu Taher." In Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, December 15, 1983, available at http:// www.iranica.com/articles/abu-taher-family-ofleading- potters-from-kasan-known-throughfour-generations-602-734-1205-1333; and Watson 1985, esp. Chapter 10: "Tiles," pp. 122ff., and Appendix I: "Lustre Potters and Their Works," pp. 176ff. More recently, Sheila Blair discusses the Abu Tahir family in relation to other families of Kashani potters in Blair 2008.
5. Only one potter in this family, Yusuf ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir, is known to have worked in the underglaze technique. See Watson 1983 (reference in footnote 4).
6. See Wiet 1933, pp. 134–35, no. 719, and pl. 2. It is published more recently in full color (with restoration) in O’Kane, Bernard, ed. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo. Cairo and New York, 2006, pp. 274–75, no. 236. Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo (no. 3745).
7. Carboni and Komaroff 2002, p. 270 n. 2, no. 125, provides the dimensions of the Cairo tile group.
8. See Wiet 1933, p. 135
Inscription: In Arabic in ornamental naskhi script:
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
أقم الصلوة طرفي النهار وزلفا من اللیل إن الحسنات یذهبن السیئات ذلك ذکری للذاکر ]ین[
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
And perform the prayer at the two ends of the day and nigh of the night;
Surely the good deeds will drive away evil deeds.
That is a remembrance unto the mindful (Qur’an 11:114)
A.H. 722 /A.D. 1322–33
(Translation after Arberry, Arthur J. The Koran Interpreted. New York, 1955, pp. 252–53). The transcription presented here reflects the calligraphy as it appears on the tile. Because of damage to the inscription near the top of the tile, the letter ف is missing from the phrase وزلفا من . It also appears that the letters و and ل in the same phrase may have been joined in the course of an earlier phase of restoration.
William Mandel, New York (by 1967–83; gifted to MMA)
New York. Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibitions Gallery. "Persian Tiles," May 4, 1993–January 2, 1994, no. 25.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," October 28, 2002–February 16, 2003, no. 125.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," April 13, 2003–July 27, 2003, no. 125.
Wiet, Gaston. L'Exposition Persane de 1931. Cairo, 1933.
Watson, Oliver. Persian Lustre Ware. London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985.
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). pp. 29-30, ill. fig. 37 (color).
Carboni, Stefano, and Tomoko Masuya. Persian Tiles. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 25, p. 30, ill. (b/w).
Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila S. Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. no. 125, pp. 128, 270, ill. fig. 152 (color).
Encyclopaedia Iranica vol. XII (2004). p. 665, ill. pl. III (b/w).
Blair, Sheila S. "A Brief Biography of Abu Zayd." Muqarnas vol. 25 (2008).
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. 80, pp. 123-124, ill. p. 123 (color).
Canby, Sheila R. "The Islamic Galleries at The Met." Arts of Asia, Arts of Asia, vol. 42 (September/October 2012). pp. 82-83, ill. fig. 4 (color).