Like many tiraz textiles, the kufic inscription embroidered across the central field of this fragment includes the name of the Abbasid caliph, al-Mu'tadid (r. 892–902), and phrases in praise of him and the Prophet Muhammad. A tiny inscription in the right margin contains the name Ibn Khushu'i, possibly the embroiderer. The silk and cotton woven fabric is referred to in the Arabic literature as mulham, which has been associated with Merv—the Abbasid capital of Khurasan in eastern Iran, now in Turkmenistan.
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Geography:Attributed to Eastern Iran or Khurasan
Medium:Silk warp and cotton weft (mulham); plain weave, embroidered
Dimensions:Textile: L. 14 3/4 in. (37.5 cm) W. 14 in. (35.6 cm) Mount: H. 16 5/8 in. (42.2 cm) W. 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm) D. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of George D. Pratt, 1931
Tiraz Textile Fragment
This textile is inscribed with a protocol in the name of the Abbasid caliph al-Mu‘tadid (r. 892–902). The inscription begins with a religious formula containing benedictory phrases alluding to the Prophet Muhammad and to the person of the caliph, the leader of the early Islamic empire and community. It is very likely that the inscription would have mentioned a place, possibly a workshop and date of production, unfortunately lost here. A tiny inscription in the right margin contains the name Ibn Khushu‘i, possibly a reference to the embroiderer of the textile.
Especially notable on this textile are the style and execution of the inscription and the material of the ground fabric. Characterized by the calligraphic treatment of individual letter forms and the ratio between low-lying letters and high letter stems, as well as their rhythm, the line of inscription in kufic script comprises an even thickness with pronounced, wedgelike letter ends that are embroidered in chain stitch with red silk. The ground fabric is composed of silk warps and cotton wefts, a mix that is referred to in the contemporary Arabic literature as mulham. A tiraz fragment in the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., bears an inscription dated to A.H. 283/896–97 A.D. in the name of al-Mu‘tadid and has a comparable calligraphic style on a mulham ground fabric. Medieval Arabic sources tell us that the production of mulham was a particular specialty of Merv, the capital of the Abbasid province of Khurasan, and several mulham tiraz fragments have survived that, according to their inscriptions, were produced in Merv.
One of these, a piece in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, is significant as it was produced in Merv in the year A.H. 287/899–90 A.D., and thus during al- Mu‘tadid’s reign. Although the style and execution of the inscription on the Berlin fragment are not as refined as those of the present textile, both share significant epigraphic details, among them the wedge-shaped pointed letter terminals and triangular and circular letter shapes, executed in chain-stitch embroidery. It is thus very likely that the present piece too was produced in Khurasan, possibly in Merv itself.
Jochen Sokoly in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Kühnel and Bellinger 1952, pp. 14–15, pl. 6.
2. Lamm 1937, pp. 105–6; Serjeant 1972, pp. 89–92, also p. 15 n. 32.
3. Sokoly 2002, nos. 83, 122, 171, and 190.
4. I bid., no. 122; Kühnel, Ernst. "Neue Beitrage zur Tiraz-Epigraphik." In Documenta Islamica Inedita. pp. 163–71, figs. 1–9. Berlin, 1952, p. 166, no. J 6412, fig. 3.
Inscribed textiles from the Abbasid world were often executed in silk embroidery on a cotton, silk, or mixed-fiber foundation. Mulham, the foundation of this textile fragment, consists of silk warp threads and mixed-fiber weft threads. Although the exact location of manufacture for this fragment is not known, Arab historians from the eight to the fourteenth century identify Merv and Nishapur in northeastern Iran, Isfahan in central Iran, and Khwarizm in Western Turkestan as production of mulham textiles.
The red silk embroidered inscription of this textile is in Abbasid kufic, with its compacted script full of angular, inverted triangle-shaped letters and long, slender, horn-tipped stems rhythmically placed along the text. The inscription mentions the caliph al-Mu'tadid, who reigned from A.D. 892–902. The formulaic blessings, which were first developed on Umayyad tiraz, were adapted and shortened on Abbasid mulham, and this one is characteristically brief, praising God and blessing the current caliph.
Tiraz textiles were often used to denote political status. Caliphs regularly bestowed tiraz-inscribed garments on court officials to encourage their loyalty and to remind them who wielded power.
[Walker and Froom, 1992]
Inscription: Arabic inscription in kufic script, embroidered in chain stitch in red silk: الله علی محمد النبي نعم الله ]sic[ بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم الحمد لله الملك الحق المبین وحمل (...) للخلیفة أبي العباس الإمام المعتضد بالله In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Praise be to God, the King, the pure Truth, and may God praise Muhammad the Prophet, may God delight in the Caliph Abu l-‘Abbas al-Imam al-Mu‘tadid billah [ . . . ]
On right margin in tiny stitch: بن الخشوعي ]أ[ عانه]؟ Ibn al-Khushu‘i, may [God] help him (?)
George D. Pratt, New York (until 1931; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Tiraz: Inscribed Textiles from Islamic Workshops," December 15, 1992–March 14, 1993, no. 1.
Lamm, Carl Johan. Cotton in Medieval Textiles of the Near East. Paris, 1937. pp. 105–6.
Serjeant, R[obert] B[ertram]. Islamic Textiles: Materials for a History up to the Mongol Conquest. Beirut, 1972. no. 32, pp. 15, 89–92.
Walker, Daniel S., and Aimee Froom. "Exhibition Notebook." In Tiraz: Inscribed Textiles from Islamic Workshops.. New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. no. 1, pp. 12–13.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 27, pp. 5, 49–50, ill. p. 49 (color).
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