Details & Cataloguing

Arts of the Islamic World


A monumental calligraphic tile, Central Asia or Persia, 14th century
the stonepaste body with tall moulded calligraphic inscription between foliate stems under a protruding band with smaller line of Kufic calligraphy, painted in white with black outlines and turquoise band on a cobalt blue ground under a transparent glaze, set onto custom metal mount
59.5 by 48cm. 
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Private European family collection since the 1960s.

Catalogue Note


‘Sovereignty is God’s, The One, The Subduer’
Qur’an, chapter CXII (al-Ikhlas), part of verse 3

This fourteenth century monumental calligraphic tile, likely fired in one piece, depicts part of verse 3 of chapter CXII (al-Ikhlas) of the Qur’an. Separated into a lower and upper register by a turquoise band, the tile consists of a mix of strong, straight lines and curling floral tendrils. These floral motifs provide a pleasing backdrop to the vertical strokes of the letters, particularly the alif and lam. The letters and foliage, in white encased in black, are ethereal in their monochrome, compared to the vibrant blue of the background. Many monumental tiles such as this were made in Kashan which was the traditional centre for Persian ceramics until the fifteenth century. Unlike Rayy, another ceramic ware centre, it was not sacked by the Mongols (Pickett 1997, p.19).

It is difficult to say where this monumental tile would have come from but it was perhaps part of a mihrab in a mosque or madrasa due to its similarity to several existing tiles in museums around the world. Whilst many Iranian potters began to date their work from the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, this was not a universal practice, hence the lack of clear date for the present tile (Wilkinson 1963, p.8). The dating of this piece is made possible by its close resemblance to a monumental tile now held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no.1983.345, published in M.D. Ekhtiar et al., [eds.], Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011, pp.123-4, no.80) which has the date 722 AH/1322–23 AD inscribed upon it.

Comparisons between the present tile and the one in the Metropolitan Museum can be found in the similar colour palette: both display dark blue backgrounds with the inscriptions and floral detailing picked out in white and black. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the shorter and rounder script on the edges with the long curving lines of the foliage is present on both tiles. The palmette motif on the floral background and the placing of the script over it on the present tile creates a pleasant density and can be compared to Sultanabad tiles dating from the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries. The Sultanabad tiles also consist of larger lower registers displaying foliage and calligraphic motifs with a separate band running across the top.

Arts of the Islamic World