The striped textiles of Yemen were famous throughout the Islamic world. They were made in the resist‑dyed ikat technique to form patterns of arrowheads and diamonds. Inscriptions on Yemeni ikats are often painted, as in this example. Such inscribed textiles were called tiraz, from the Persian word meaning "embroidery." They were produced in tiraz workshops under royal control. Such textiles usually bore inscriptions naming the current ruler or caliph to whom the recipient owed loyalty. Tiraz textiles were presented by rulers as robes of honor at formal ceremonies.
Ikat, a technique that involves using individually resist- or tie-dyed cotton warp threads, was a specialty of Yemen during the early Islamic period, attested in the literary sources of the period. The Arabic term for this type of cloth is ‘asb, the root of which means to bind or tie. Ikats were also produced in other locations throughout the Indian Ocean region. The piece seen here is a magnificent example of this type of textile, in both its manufacture—the fineness of the cotton threads, the regularity of the weave with its pattern, and the delicately twisted fringe—and its gilded benedictory inscription in ornamental kufic characters. While several ikats with embroidered personalized inscriptions in the names of Abbasid caliphs have survived, some of which attest the Yemeni capital Sana‘a as a place of production, only two have caliphal inscriptions outlined in ink and gilded. Both refer to a son of the Abbasid caliph al-Muntasir, the amir Abu Ibrahim. Al-Muntasir ruled from 861 to 863 and before that held governorships of several Arab provinces, possibly including Yemen. These two inscriptions share with the present piece a style of kufic inscription with pronounced hooklike letter ends as well as an interlaced lam-alif with small foliations that are typical of various regions of the Abbasid Empire during the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Textiles such as this inscribed ikat are testimony to the importance of Yemen as a center for the production of Abbasid luxury goods, linking the trade routes of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Jochen Sokoly (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Band of pseudo-kufic characters outlined in ink and gilded
Inscribed in Arabic above band:
Dominion belongs to Him [God]
George D. Pratt, New York (until 1929; gifted to MMA)
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