The hull of this sailing ship comprises the names of the Seven Sleepers and their dog. The tale of the Seven Sleepers, found in pre-Islamic Christian sources, concerns a group of men who sleep for centuries within a cave, protected by God from religious persecution. Both hadith (sayings of the Prophet), and tafsir (commentaries on the Qur'an) suggest that these verses from the Qur'an have protective qualities.
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Calligrapher:'Abd al-Qadir Hisari (Turkish)
Date:dated A.H. 1180/ 1766–67 CE
Geography:Made in Turkey
Medium:Ink and gold on paper
Dimensions:H. 19 in. (48.3 cm) W. 17 in. (43.2 cm)
Credit Line:Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art and Rogers Fund, 2003
Sweeping golden calligraphy forms the hull of this galleon, at sail upon a sea composed of miniscule ghubar (dustlike) script. Referred to as calligrams, images composed entirely from calligraphy were created in many regions of the Islamic world, including Persia and India, but were especially popular in Ottoman Turkey. These images take on a wide variety of forms, such as lions, horses, storks, peacocks, dervish headgear, mosques, and ships. Among certain sufi orders of Turkey, some of these word pictures were considered to have mystical significance and often adorned the walls of dervish lodges and other ritual spaces.
Additional examples of calligraphic vessels are known, including a late seventeenth-century drawing of an oared ship signed and dated by Isma‘il Derdi, today in the Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul. In the Metropolitan’s galleon, the golden inscriptions of the hull comprise the names of the Seven Sleepers, referred to in Arabic as the Ashab al-Kahf (The Companions, or People of the Cave). The story of the Sleepers is found in pre-Islamic Christian sources. It tells of a group of six young Christian men, a shepherd, and the shepherd’s dog, who sleep for centuries within a cave, protected by God from religious persecution. In the Qur’an the story is recounted within Sura 18 (al-Kahf, "The Cave"); verses 9–26.
While no mention of a ship is made in the story, Ottoman artists have incorporated the Sleepers’ names into the depiction of ships since at least the seventeenth century. The names of the Seven Sleepers also appear on talismanic pendants and amulets, even under inkwell lids. This practice may be due to the apotropaic qualities associated with these names. According to recent scholarship, both hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and tafsir (commentaries on the Qur’an) describe the protective qualities associated with the Seven Sleepers and related Qur’anic verses—among them, the belief that if the names of the Sleepers were inscribed upon a ship, it would be protected from sinking. The Ottoman navy is said to have been dedicated to the Seven Sleepers. And, the image at hand likely represents one of the Ottoman fleet’s newly fashioned military galleons, outfitted with numerous cannons for battle and shielded from harm by the Ashab al-Kahf.
Denise-Marie Teece and Karin Zonis in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
3. For a summary of "pictorial writing" in Persia, see Blair 2006, pp. 449–56 (and related footnotes), which includes an image ( p. 450, fig. 10.15) of perhaps the best-known Persian example, a lion composed of verses of the Nad-i ‘Ali (an invocation of ‘Ali). For more on the use of pictorial writing on the Indian subcontinent, see ibid., pp. 558–59. For more on Ottoman pictorial calligraphy, see ibid., pp. 506–8.
4. The Metropolitan’s collection also contains a peacock calligram dedicated to an Ottoman ruler (acc. no. 67.266.7.8r); for the Bellini Album, of which the peacock calligram is part, see acc. no. 67.266.7.6r.
5. See Schimmel, Annemarie. "Calligraphy and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey." In The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey, edited by Raymon Lifchez, pp. 242–52. Berkeley, 1992; see also DeJong 1992, pp. 228–41 in the same volume; and The Aura of Alif: The Art of Writing in Islam. Exhibition, Staatliches Museum für Volkerkunde München. Catalogue by Jurgen Wasim Frembgen and others. Munich and London, 2010, pp. 79–89.
6. For an illustration of this work, see Osmanli sanatinda hat. Exhibition, Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul. Catalogue by Filiz Cağman and and Sule Aksoy. Istanbul, 1998, p. 83. Another calligraphic ship, dated to the nineteenth century, was sold at Bonhams in 2000 (see Bonhams Knightsbridge, London, Islamic and Indian Works of Art, October 11, 2000, lot 634).
7. Paret, R. "Ashab al-Kahf." In EI2 1960–2009, vol. 1 (1960), p. 691.
8. Porter, Venetia. "Amulets Inscribed with the Names of the ‘Seven Sleepers’ of Ephesus in the British Museum." In Word of God, Art of Man: The Qur’an and Its Creative Expressions; Selected Proceedings from the International Colloquium, London, 18–21 October 2003, edited by Fahmida Suleman, pp. 123–34. The Institute of Ismaili Studies, Qur’anic Studies Series, 4. Oxford, 2007. For an image of an inkwell with the names of the Seven Sleepers incised onto the underside of the lid, see Acar, M. Şinası. Türk hat sanatı (araç, gereç ve formlar)/Turkish Calligraphy (Materials, Tools and Forms). Istanbul, 1999, p. 90. See also a similar inkwell lid in Kayaoğlu, I. Gundag."Divitler." In M. Uğur Derman Festschrift: Papers Presented on the Occasion of His Sixty-fifth Birthday, edited by Irvin Cemil Schick, Istanbul, 2000, p. 359.
9. See Porter, V. 2007 (footnote 8), p. 126.
Signature: 'Abd al-Qadir Hisari
Inscription: English translations of the Qur’an are taken from Arthur J. Arberry’s "The Koran Interpreted" (New York, 1966).
Inscription in upper-left corner:
كتبه الفقيرالمذنب عبد القادر الحصاري في السا کین(?) اناطولى سنة ١١٨٠
Written by the poor sinner ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Hisari living in [?] Anatolia [in the] year A.H. 1180 [A.D. 1766– 67]
Inscription in gold, forming the hull and deck of the ship, the names of the Seven Sleepers along with their dog Qitmir;
on the stern within a gold disk, the tughra of the Ottoman sultan
Inscription below the tughra:
السلطان بن السلطان السلطان مصطفى خان بن السلطان احمد خان
The Sultan, son of the Sultan, the Sultan Mustafa [III] Khan, son of the Sultan Ahmad [III] Khan
Inscribed in Arabic on the flagpole: [Qur’an 2:255 (the “Throne Verse”)]
Inscription in Ottoman Turkish on the waves of the sea, a prose text relating to navigation and the sea; in larger script, framing the image, poetic verses in Ottoman Turkish
Inscription in Arabic in smaller script, framing the image:
اللهم صل علی سیدنا محمد و علی آل محمد سید الفائزین
May God bless our Master Muhammad and the Family of Muhammad, Master of the Victors.
Footnotes: 1- Thanks to my colleague Deniz Beyazit for kindly reviewing the Ottoman Turkish inscriptions on this piece, and also to Rıfat Gunalan and Faruk Bilici, who kindly consulted with her on these readings.
2- This text is repeated several times, each time with a different final descriptor. The same repeating phrase is also to be found surrounding the signature of the calligrapher on the upper left.
[ Ciancimino & Co, London, until ca. 1965; sold to Galloway]; [ Francesca Galloway, London, ca. 1965–2003; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi and the Sufi Tradition," October 23, 2007–February 3, 2008, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Decorated Word : Writing and Picturing in Islamic Calligrahy," April 8–November 3, 2019.
Dalal, Radha, Sean Roberts, and Jochen Sokoly, ed. The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art. Yale University Press, pp. 20–21, fig. 1.6.
Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp. 449–56, 506–8, 558–59, ill. fig. 10.15, (related).
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. 206, pp. 296–97, ill. p. 297 (color).
Leoni, Francesca. "Islamic Art and the Supernatural." In Power and Protection. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford University, 2016. p. 36, ill. fig. 17.
Ekhtiar, Maryam. How to Read Islamic Calligraphy. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. no. 37, pp. 106, 132–35, ill. pp. 106, 132, 133.
"The Decorated Word: Writing and Picturing in Islamic Calligraphy." The Burlington Magazine vol. 161 (October 2019). p. 862, ill. fig. 13 (color).
Students will be able to identify visual qualities of several calligraphic scripts; recognize ways artists from the Islamic world engage various scripts to enhance works of art supporting a range of functions; and assess the merits of several computer-generated fonts in supporting specific uses.
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