Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Takht–i Sulayman and Tile Work in the Ilkhanid Period

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Excavations have revealed that the architectural complex of Takht-i Sulayman (ca. 1270), the summer royal palace of the Ilkhanid ruler Abakha (r. 1265–82) located in northwestern Iran, was lavishly decorated with tile revetments that covered both the exterior and interior walls of many of its buildings. Exterior tiles, made to better withstand weather conditions, have a simple monochrome glaze and show a combination of interlocking hexagons and stars. Combinations for the interior walls were mostly based on star- and cross-shaped tiles and hexagonal, double-pentagonal, and star tiles. These geometric panels filled the lower part of the walls and were crowned by a single frieze of large square or rectangular tiles. In some cases, the friezes at Takht-i Sulayman included tiles with inscriptions taken from the Shahnama as well as more generic hunting scenes (10.9.1). The tiles of Takht-i Sulayman were most likely produced in situ, as confirmed by a mold found during excavations.


The great majority of tiles for the interiors of other Ilkhanid buildings were decorated in the rich luster technique (12.49.4), which made the walls glitter, reflecting the sunlight entering through the windows or the dim glow of oil lamps. Luster painting on tiles had a well-established pre-Mongol tradition in the Iranian city of Kashan. This technique consists of overglaze painting with metallic pigments that, when fired in a reduced-oxygen atmosphere, acquire a lustrous golden or brownish appearance. Panels of star and cross luster-painted tiles covered the walls of many Ilkhanid buildings, mainly in northern Iran. The presence of human figures, animals, and inscriptions quoting Persian poetry suggests that the tiles were employed in leisure palaces and abodes erected for affluent members of the Ilkhanid elite following the example of royal palaces like Takht-i Sulayman.

Stefano Carboni
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Qamar Adamjee
Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two star tiles and two cross tiles, 1270s
Iran, probably Takht-i Sulayman
Fritware, overglaze painted (lajvardina); H. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
Shinji Shumeikai Acquisition Fund (AC1996.115.1-.4)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Frieze tile with calligraphy, 1270s
Iran (Takht-i Sulayman)
Fritware, overglaze luster-painted; 11 1/4 x 11 in. (28.6 x 27.9 cm)
(B60P2146)
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, The Avery Brundage Collection
Ruins of the summer palace at Takht-i Sulayman, ca. 1275. Ruins of the summer palace at Takht-i Sulayman, ca. 1275. Ruins of the summer palace at Takht-i Sulayiman, ca. 1275.