scalloped medallion: ya fatah ('Oh Opened').
central panel: surah ar-Rahman (LV) vv.26-27.
side cartouches: surah al-Hashr (LIX) v.24.
The use of military emblems in Persia is attested since the time of the Achaemenids (circa 700 to 330 B.C.), but it’s only from the fourteenth century onwards that the standard (‘alam) developed in the form of a pole decorated with quadrefoils, dragon heads and knobs.
Following the end of the Mongol invasions in the fifteenth century their shape developed and took a more standardized look and despite minor differences attributed to regional production, the standard pear-shape with an ornamental point and double dragon heads becomes the most commonly found (for several drawings of standards after paintings in the Shah Tahmasp (r.1524-76) Shahnama see Allan 2000, p.255).
Used at first only as military emblems, by the seventeenth century they are also attested in religious (for example during the Ashura) and funerary occasions (although a painting in a Zafarnama dated 929 AH/1523 AD might witness this use earlier, see Allan 2000, p.260).
Allan identifies five different groups of ‘alams, ours falls in the group B: this type is similar, but slightly more elaborate, to group A and it is characterised by an almond or pear shape, different areas delineated by riveted steel bands and it is usually adorned with two projecting dragons (for an extensive discussions on all the different types see Allan 2000, pp.264-281).
Dated ‘alams are rare and very few have appeared on the market; most of the ones
offered in the past decades have all been dated to the beginning of the eighteenth century (Sotheby’s London, 20 April 1983, lot 313, dated 1124 AH/1712 AD; Sotheby’s London, 16 April 1986, lot 184, dated 1126 AH/1714 AD; Sotheby’s London, 18 April 2007, lot 121, dated 103 AH/1691 AD or 103 AH/1620 AD; Christie’s London, 8 April 2008, lot 201, dated 1122 AH/1710 AD). This example pre-dates all the ones offered recently and was made in the apex of Shah ‘Abbas I reign (r.1587-1629).
A closely related example, with elegant thuluth and outer border decorated with similar floral scrolls is now in the Reza Abbasi Museum (inv.no.1216, Canby 2009, p.236); another related example, with outfacing dragon heads but with mirrored calligraphy is now in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (Thompson & Canby 2003, p.222, n.8.17). A further comparable is in the Kooros collection, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.