Talismanic Shirt

Object Name: Shirt

Date: 15th–early 16th century

Geography: Attributed to Northern India or Deccan

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Cotton, ink, gold; plain weave, painted

Dimensions: Textile: L. 25 in. (63.5 cm)
W. 38 3/4 in. (98.4 cm)
Mount: L. 25 in. (63.5 cm)
W. 38 3/4 in. (98.4 cm)

Classification: Textiles

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 1998

Accession Number: 1998.199


Embellished with the full text of the Qur'an and also, in the borders, with the ninety-nine names of God as well as holy sayings, this well-preserved shirt served a talismanic function for the warrior who wore it under his armor; it thus protected him with the Divine Message in battle. Talismanic shirts are known in versions from Iran, Turkey, and India, but early examples such as this are rare.
Although technically a textile, this work speaks more eloquently as a representative of the art of the book: its decoration consists entirely of calligraphy and illumination. Especially appealing are the shoulder cartouches, decorated with roundels containing checkerboard patterns or the name of God, and the two breast roundels, containing the basmala ("In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful"). In style and colors, the shirt bears a loose resemblance to the few manuscripts attributed to sultanate India and also to the cut-plaster ornamentation of the Sayyid and Lodi tombs in Delhi, but an origin in the Deccan cannot be ruled out.