Details & Cataloguing

Arts of the Islamic World


A rare Maghribi gilt metal thread embroidered curtain or cover, Morocco, circa 18th century
of rectangular form, the black cotton ground embroidered with gilt metal threads, the design comprised of an arched inscription band with an inner ogee arch centred on a small calligraphic roundel with starburst surround and a larger leaf-shaped cartouche below enclosing a monumental radial inscription, the spandrels with crescent-form calligraphic cartouches, the interstices with leaf scrolls, flowerheads and further inscriptions, the tapered upper section with two broad inscription bands in oblong cusped cartouches, framed by a narrow scrolling border, modern backing
204 by 131cm. max.
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Catalogue Note


The top cartouche:  Qur'an, surah al-Tawba (IX), parts of 128 and 129.

The second cartouche: Qur'an, surah al-Baqara (II), parts of 255.

In the corners of the second cartouche:  'God' and 'Muhammad'

In the two roundels in the corners of the main arch:  The shahada.

In the main arch: Qur'an, surah al-Baqara (II), 260, ending with: 'The Most Supreme God told the truth'.

In the inner arch: Qur'an, surah al-Baqara (II), parts of 137; surah Al 'Imran (III), parts of 102.

In the roundel in the inner arch: Qur'an, surah al-Saff (LXI), parts of 13.

In the large cartouche: Qur'an, surah al-Ikhlas, (CXII).

In the centre of the large cartouche: Qur'an, surah al-Duha (XCIII), 5.

In the border around the central cartouche, the upper part:  A couplet from al-Busiri's qasida al-Burda.

The lower part, suggested reading:

A mulay ya idris ibn nabiyyana wa malja' hadha al-qutr fi'l-'usr wa'l-yusr / taka (?) nafsi bi-burd sawarif atayni 'ala talf li-marrat tughashshani 'ala furan

In the leaf-shaped cartouches:  Invocations to God.

This beautiful textile is a rare survival. The inscriptions have a characteristic Maghribi form indicating a North African centre of production, probably Morocco, perhaps as early as the eighteenth century.

The reference to Idris in part of the inscription could be an allusion to Idris ibn Abdullah, or Idris I (reigned 789-791), the great grandson of the second imam, Hasan son of 'Ali and grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Idris ibn Abdullah escaped from the rule of the Abbasids in 786 and took refuge in North Africa where he established the rule of the Idrisid dynasty in present-day Morocco. This would confirm that the curtain is of Moroccan manufacture and that the person who commissioned it was consciously alluding to an illustrious predecessor who had a direct link to the family of The Prophet (PBUH).

There are further clues to the function of the curtain. The tapered upper section and fabric dimensions are an exact match to a group of curtains made for Maqam Ibrahim at Mecca. Prior to 1940 when Maqam Ibrahim was rebuilt, the shrine had a distinctive sloping top and all curtains made to cover the structure reflected its truncated pyramidal form (see Rafa'at, Ibrahim, Marat al-Haramein, Part 1, Cairo, A.H. 1344, pl.53).

Furthermore, the inclusion of surah al-Baqara (II), verse 260, in the main arch, which refers to the Prophet Ibrahim, is typical of verses found on "part one" or "side one" curtains made for the four-sided shrine and provides further evidence that this textile was destined for Mecca (see Helmi, Ibrahim, Kiswat al-Ka'aba al-Musharrafah wa Funoun al-Hijjaj, Cairo, 1991). Other verses, such as qasida al-burda, are atypical.

In the absence of any written record it is impossible to be certain, however, the weight of evidence outlined above (particularly the unique shape and precise dimensions) does suggest that this curtain was indeed intended as a presentation gift for Maqam Ibrahim, most probably commissioned by a Moroccan prince or ruler, as early as the eighteenth century. The curtain is, to the best of our knowledge, unique.

Arts of the Islamic World