This panel and the other five in the Met’s collection (39.40.60–64) were excavated near a mosque that served a dense residential neighborhood in medieval Nishapur. Together with other panels now in Iran, they are believed to have framed the entrance portal of the prayer hall. The frieze was originally painted in red and lapis blue on a white ground. It included the word "al-sultan", a title that first occurred in monumental epigraphy in the eleventh century with Seljuq and Ghaznavid rulers.This inscription originally bore the titles of the Seljuq Sultan Malik Shah (r. 1073–92).
In this period Nishapur was a thriving center of religious and intellectual life that prospered due to its position on the trade route to Central Asia, natural resources such as turquoise and alabaster, the cultivation of cotton, and the production of both silk and cotton textiles.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Panel from a Mosque Frieze Bearing the Name of a Sultan
Geography:Excavated in Iran, Nishapur
Medium:Terracotta; carved, painted
Dimensions:H. 23 5/8 in. (60 cm) W. 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm) D. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm) Wt. 74 lbs. (33.6 kg)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1939
Six Elements of a Frieze in the Name of a Sultan (MMA 39.40.58, 39.40.60–64)
These six panels were excavated at Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur, where they are believed to have formed a large frieze running along the entrance to the prayer hall. The panels are made of carved terracotta, a variation of the more common carved-brick techniques widespread from central Iran to the southwest parts of Khurasan and Afghanistan. They show traces of white underpainting as well as red and blue paint, which were more evident immediately after the excavations.
The town of Nishapur was a major urban center in Khurasan, a key region in early Islamic history for its political, military, cultural, and economic contributions to the developments occurring at the core of the caliphate. After gaining de facto independence and flourishing from the ninth century onward under the local Tahirid and Samanid dynasties, the city experienced more turbulent times in the first half of the eleventh century. Nishapur repeatedly passed between Ghaznavid occupation—from whose exorbitant taxation the populace suffered—and Seljuq rule. However, the prosperity of the town, based on its advantageous position on the trade route to Central Asia; abundant natural resources (mainly turquoise and alabaster); extensive cultivation of cotton; and production of cotton and silk textiles, in addition to its thriving religious and intellectual life, continued into the Seljuq and post-Seljuq periods. The Mongol invasion of 1221 and earthquakes in the thirteenth century brought the city to ruin, and a much smaller settlement was established just north of the ancient city.
Excavations at Tepe Madrasa brought to light a dense residential urban pattern, including palatine constructions and a multiperiod prayer hall, with traces of at least six different phases of construction. The plan of the mosque consisted of a relatively small hypostyle room with a monumental entrance portal. These panels were found in a subsistence precipitated by the collapse of an underground domed chamber used as a water repository (ab anbar) that relates to reconstruction activity of the eleventh or twelfth century. Although highly fragmentary, the panels include the word al-sultan, a title that first occurred in the eleventh century in the epigraphic decoration of the monuments of the Seljuq Malik Shah (r. 1073–92) and the Ghaznavid Ibrahim (r. 1059–99). As such, they most likely testify to construction activity that was officially patronized by a Seljuq sultan or carried out during his reign.
Other terracotta elements—a frieze and two drums of an engaged column—recovered in the same subsistence and likely part of the mosque decoration of the same period, all bear inscriptions with the words al-mulk li-llah (dominion is to God). This formula is commonly found in the monumental epigraphy of the eastern Islamic lands, such as in the Seljuq northern domed hall added to the masjid-i jami’ of Isfahan in A.H. 481/A.D. 1088–89).
Martina Rugiadi in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
2. Earlier analyses (Wilkinson, Charles K. Nishapur: Some Early Islamic Buildings and Their Decoration. New York, 1986, p. 115) detected cinnabar and lapis in the vermilion and blue pigments. More recently pigments from two of the panels (Metropolitan Museum, 39.40.63 and 39.40.64) were analyzed using μ-XRF, the results of which have not yet been discussed, and with ultraviolet visible spectroscopy (UV-Vis). The compositions detected were litharge (PbO) (39.40.64, 39.40.63), only analyzed by μ-XRF; red lead (Pb3O4) (39.40.63); and ultramarine blue (Na6–10Al- 6Si6O24S2–4) (39.40.63). See Holakooei, Parviz. “The Palette of Nishapur’s Painters: A Brief Report on the Optical Reflectance Spectra of the Nishapur’s Paints.” Unpublished report, October 26, 2015. Department of Objects Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
3. Wilkinson 1986 (reference in note 2 above), pp. 66, 99.
4. This frieze has a restoration on its right side. It could be read as either [a]‘za[m] (the greatest) or [mu]‘azza[m] (the great). The title al- sultan al-a‘zam is employed in monumental Ghaznavid inscriptions for Ibrahim (r. 1059–99) and Bahram Shah (r. 1118–52); see Giunta, Roberta, and Cécile Bresc. “Listes de la titulature des Ghaznavides et des Ghurides à travers les documents numismatiques et épigraphiques.” Eurasian Studies 3, no. 2 (2004), p. 187. Seljuq examples using (al-)sultan al-mu‘azzam appear in reference to Malik Shah, Muhammad Tapar (r. 1105–18), Mahmud II (r. 1118–31), and possibly Tutush I (r. 1078–95); see Combe, Ét., J. Sauvaget, and G[aston] Wiet, eds. Répertoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe. Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale. Cairo, 1931– , vol. 7, nos. 2707, 2734–37, 2773, 2780, 2783, 2792, 2798, 2804, 2934, 2943 (al-sultan only), 2960, 2973, 2974, and 3007; Blair, Sheila S. The Monumental Inscriptions from Early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana. Studies in Islamic Art and Architecture, 5. Leiden and New York, 1992, p. 60; Herzfeld, Ernst. Matériaux pour un corpus inscriptionum arabicarum. Pt. 2, Syrie du Nord: Inscriptions et monuments d’Alep, vol. 1, Texte. Mémoires publiés par les membres de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 76. Cairo, 1955, pp. 153–60, no. 57.
5. Giunta, Roberta. “The Saljuq Inscriptions of the Great Mosque, Isfahan.” In ADAMJI Project: From the Excavation (1972–1978) to the Archive (2003–2010) in the Masjed-e Jom‘e, Isfahan, edited by Bruno Genito and Fariba Saiedi Anaraki, p. 93. Tehran, 2011. The formula must have entered the religious and public discourse in the eleventh century, as it is also common in Ghaznavid monumental epigraphy; see Giunta, Roberta. “Testimonianze epigrafiche dei regnanti ghaznavidi a Gaznı.” In Scritti in onore di Giovanni M. D’Erme, edited by Michele Bernardini and Natalia L. Tornesello, pp. 525–55. Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale,” Dipartimento di Studi Asiatici, Series minor, 68. Naples, 2005, p. 533; and Giunta, Roberta. “New Epigraphic Data from the Excavations of the Ghaznavid Palace of Mas‘ud III at Ghazni (Afghanistan).” In Callieri, Pierfrancesco, and Luca Colliva, eds. Proceedings of the 19th Meeting of the European Association of South Asian Archaeology in Ravenna, Italy, July 2007. Vol. 2, Historic Periods. Oxford, 2010, p. 126.
Inscription: Inscribed in Arabic in cursive: ]امر بتجد[يد ھ]ذه العمارة فى ايا[م السلطا]ن الم[عظم شا]هنشاه الاعظم مولى الع[رب ]والعجم سلطان ا[رض ]الله مالك بلاد الله رک[ن الا]سلام والمسلمين معز[ الد]ن[يا والد]ين ابو الفتح ملكشاه بن محمد يمين امي[ر المؤ]منين[
[. . . ordered the renova]tion of th[is building during the day]s of the g[reat] sulta[n], [august] ki[ng of kings, lord of the A]rabs [and the Persians, sultan of God’s l]and, [ruler of God’s country, Pill]ar of I[slam and the Muslims, fortifier] of the wo[r]ld and the re[ligion, Abul- Fath Malik Shah b. Muhammad, right hand of God’s Caliph, the command]er of the fai[thful].1
Note 1. For this tentative interpretation and reading of the titles as referring to Malik Shah (r. 1073–92), see Blair, Sheila S. The Monumental Inscriptions from Early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana. Studies in Islamic Art and Architecture, 5. Leiden and New York, 1992, pp. 170–71, no. 64.
1938, excavated at Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1939, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25–July 24, 2016, no. 162.
Hauser, Walter, and Charles K. Wilkinson. "The Museum's Excavations at Nishapur." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 37 no. 4 (1942). p. 97, ill. fig. 20 (b/w).
Wilkinson, Charles K. Nishapur: Some Early Islamic Buildings and their Decoration. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. pp. 110–12, ill. fig. 1.98 right.
Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 162a, pp. 257–58, ill. p. 257 (color).
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is one of the most comprehensive in the world and ranges in date from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Its more than 15,000 objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions from Spain to Indonesia.