This large, luxurious silk banner with sweeping lines of gold calligraphy displays Qur’anic verses that convey assurances of victory for the faithful and invocations to God for protection and assistance. The content of these inscriptions suggests that this textile may have had a military function, to protect and assist the army that carried it, or was perhaps used in religious processions. Similarly inscribed banners from the Ottoman Empire are well published—some were intended to be carried into battle, others to be borne by the faithful on pilgrimage. Surviving Persian banners, however, are extremely rare.
Visual evidence for the presence of inscribed banners in Persia is found from at least the fifteenth century onward. In the early sixteenth century, numerous images of heavily embellished banners—many displaying Arabic inscriptions—appear in battle-scene paintings of the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76). One example, on a folio in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, exhibits a triangular banner with calligraphic invocations similar to those found on the present textile. A century later, the Persian military continued to use inscribed banners, as witnessed by the seventeenth-century French traveler Jean Chardin. While visiting Persia, he observed, "Their ensigns [banners] are cut in points, like our pennons, and are made with all colors and of all kinds of rich fabrics. They have no other ensigns, either for cavalry or for infantry. As legend and in place of a device, they put on these flags their credo, or a quotation from the Qur’an."
In addition to Qur’anic verses, however, this banner also contains inscriptions describing its fabrication. One of them, found in the center of the light blue cartouche, identifies the banner as the work of (‘amal-i) Isma‘il Kashani. Around his name, specially composed verses provide the dates of the weaving of the banner using the abjad system, in which individual letters have numerical equivalents. The letters in a portion of each verse total 1,106 and 1,107, representing the years in which work on the banner was commenced and completed. This careful coordination of dedicatory verse, elegant calligraphy, and intricate weaving reveals the significant forethought and resources lavished upon this masterful textile.
Denise-Marie Teece in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. Published in Pope 1938, vol. 3, pp. 2124–25, and vol. 6, pl. 1070a; Dimand 1940, ill. p. 143, fig. 2, pp. 143– 44; and Reath and Sachs 1937, example 15, p. 74, pl. 15.
3. A solely religious context may be possible as well, as similar verses and invocations are found on tomb covers and other textiles used within religious settings.
4. See Denny, Walter B. "A Group of Silk Islamic Banners." Textile Museum Journal 4, no. 1 (December 1974), pp. 67–81.
5. Among them, a triangular-shaped banner inscribed with Qur’anic verses and the name of the fifteenth-century Aq Quyunlu ruler UzunHasan, in the collection of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace. Uzuncarşılı, İ. Hakkı. Anadolu Baylikieri ve Akkoyunlu, Karakoyunlu Devetleri. 2nd ed. 1969. Ankara, 1984, cover and fig. 49. A later Qajar example is in London 1976, p. 113, no. 91. Two uncut nineteenth-century ‘Ashura banners are in The Aura of Alif: The Art of Writing in Islam. Exhibition, Staatliches Museum für Volkerkunde München. Catalogue by Jürgen Wasim Frembgen and others. Munich and London, 2010, p. 22, fig. 9. For more on the textual and visual evidence for Persian banners, especially those with figural and calligraphic decoration, see Melikian-Chirvani, A[ssadullah] S[ouren]. "Banners." In Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, December 15, 1988, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/banners-alam-derafs. and Shahbazi, A. Shapur. "Flags. i. Of Persia." In Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, December 15, 1999, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ flags-i..
6. See no. 63.210.35.
7. See fol. 496r, published in Chevaux et cavaliers arabes dans les arts d’Orient et d’Occident. Exhibition, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris. [Paris], 2002, p. 231, no. 196.
8. As quoted by Ackerman, Phyllis. "Standards, Banners and Badges." In Pope 1938, vol. 3, pp. 2766–82, esp. p. 2780. My thanks to Ariana Muessel for her kind assistance in locating images for this entry.
9. Abdullah Ghouchani provided the interpretation of this chronogram.
Inscription: English translations of the Qur’an are taken from Arthur J. Arberry’s "The Koran Interpreted" (New York, 1966).
Inscriptions in Arabic and Persian in thuluth and nasta‘liq scripts (from top to bottom):
Top right cartouche: (Qur’an, 37:172–73)
Top left cartouche, in Arabic:
وکفی بالله و کیلاً
And, God suffices for a Guardian 
Large central cartouche: (Qur’an 110 and the date 1107)
Small yellow cartouche, in Arabic:
یا مفتح الابواب
O, Opener of Doors!
Central and outer portions, respectively, of two-color cartouche, in Arabic:
عمل العبد اسمعیل کاشانی
Work of the servant Isma‘il Kashani
And in Persian:
رایت فتح آید کردند تاریخ شروع
رایت نصر من الله بهر إتمامش علم ١١٠٧
The banner of triumph, the date of commencement [shuru‘] of work
The banner of God-given victory, the completion of the flag (‘alam) 1107
Bottom cartouche, in Arabic:
یا رفیع الدرجات
O, Sublime of Rank!
1. This phrase appears in five different Suras, including 4:81, 4:132,
4:171, 33:3, and 33:48. The translation is taken from Arberry.
Marking: See link panel.
Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 329, p. 201.
Wiet, Gaston. L'Exposition Persane de 1931. Cairo, 1933. no. 70, p. 61.
Reath, Nancy Andrews, and Eleanor B. Sachs. Persian Textiles and Their Technique from the Sixth to the Eighteenth Centuries Including a System for General Textile Classification. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937. p. 74, example 15, ill. pl. 15.
Harari, Ralph, and Richard Ettinghausen. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. Vol. I-VI. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. vol. 3, pp. 2124–25, ill. v. 6, pl. 1070A.
The Arts of Islam. London, 1976. no. 91, p. 113, (related).
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. 178, pp. 254-255, ill. p. 255 (color).