text: surat al-baqarat (II), v.255
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Formerly in the Firouz Collection
Indian Drawings and Painted Sketches: 16th through 19th Centuries, The Asia House Gallery, New York, 1976
Calligraphy in the Arts of the Muslim World, The Asia Society, New York; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Seattle Art Museum; the St. Louis Art Museum, 1979-80
Birds, Beasts and Calligraphy, Harvard Art Museums, 1981
Line and Space: Calligraphies from Medieval Islam, Harvard Art Museums, 1984
Inscription as Art in the World of Islam, Hofstra University, Hempstead, 1996
Welch 1963c, p.31
Welch 1976, no.31, p.70
Welch A. 1979, no.77, pp.180-181
This is a calligraphic masterpiece, displaying the art of calligraphy at its most accomplished. The artist has written the entire Throne Verse, one of the most popular verses in the Qur'an, forming the gold letters and words in an extraordinarily inventive and skillful manner into an elegantly prancing horse. The technical achievement is superb and the artistic achievement inspiring.
The text of the Throne Verse begins at the horse's head; the first half of the verse is written in the area in front of the saddle; the second half of the verse is written in the area behind the saddle, and the final words are spread across the area below the saddle from the hind quarters to just above the vertical front leg.
The text of the Throne Verse is as follows:
"Allah is He besides whom there is no god, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsisting, by whom all subsist; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission? He knows what is before them, and what is behind them, and they cannot comprehend anything out of His knowledge except what He pleases; His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of them both tires Him not, and He is the Most High, the Great."
(The Holy Qur-an, translated by Maulvi Muhammad Ali, Lahore, 1920)
In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Calligraphy in the Arts of the Muslim World, Anthony Welch discussed the possible symbolism of this calligraphic horse, suggesting that the mighty horse depicted here symbolises God's omnipotence and omniscience as described in the specific words of the Throne Verse, which carries the miniscule rider, so much smaller in scale than the horse, representing the human soul.
Other examples of pious calligraphic animals are known, but the majority are in the form of birds or lions (see, for instance, a lion made up of the words of the Nadi' Ali, in the Aga Khan Museum Collection, see Paris 2007, no.51, p.146). Horses are very much rarer, and the amount of text involved has produced amongst the most complex and dramatic examples known.
In the lower part of the saddle cloth, below the central lobed medallion, is the remnants of a signature of the artist. The only legible word is kamtarin and the rest is rubbed and illegible. Below the belly of the horse on the plain background is an inscription reading sahib indicating a past owner.
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