Late 14th–early 15th century
Silk, lampas; 10 5/8 x 21 1/4 in. (27 x 54 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.31)
KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Calligraphy (thuluth script), Spain, sultan, courtly life, textile, silk
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS UNIT
Calligraphy was an important social and political tool within the royal courts of the Islamic world and text was used as both a decorative and functional element on many objects, including textiles.
Textiles with calligraphic bands are called tiraz, which means "embroidery" in Arabic. They were produced in royal workshops and presented to individuals in service to the court. Inscriptions followed a formula that often included the name of the ruler, his titles, honorifics, the place of manufacture, and sometimes the name of the workshop superintendent. The prolific production of these gifts in royal workshops led to the workshops themselves being referred to as tiraz. Though many tiraz were used in clothing, this specific textile fragment's function remains unclear. Nevertheless, it is certain that tiraz served to celebrate and reinforce the power and authority of the ruler and his court.
A calligraphic inscription in yellow letters against a red background decorates the center band of the fabric. The inscription repeats the phrase "Glory to our Lord the Sultan." The tall vertical shafts of the letters are balanced by the horizontal sections of the inscription and the decorative elements embellishing it. At the center, the decoration is more ornate and emphasizes the word sultan, successfully fulfilling the main purpose of the textile—to glorify the ruler and acknowledge his authority.
With examples dating from as early as the seventh century, tiraz textiles from Egypt are among the oldest inscribed objects in the Islamic world. In addition to mentioning the ruler's name, these bands of calligraphy sometimes bear wishes of good fortune to the owner or provide historical information such as the date and place of production. Textiles containing good wishes for the ruler were common in North Africa and Muslim Spain, where this example was produced. The calligraphy on this textile is executed in a Spanish version of thuluth, a script also widely seen in other media such as stone, metal, wood, glass, and metalwork.
RELATED AUDIO FROM THE GALLERY GUIDE
Thomas P. Campbell: These textile fragments were part of elaborate robes. The inscriptions on them were considered the most important and beautiful part. Most of these so-called tiraz textiles date from the early centuries of Islam under the Abbasid Dynasty.
Walter Denny: From earliest Islamic times, royal courts operated special fabrication, factories you might call them, known collectively under the name of tiraz, an Arabic word that simply means a private manufactory for luxury goods. These factories were mainly interested in weaving the beautiful robes, which were a common form of gift among nobles and sovereigns in those days. The wearing of these robes, many of which had inscriptions on them listing the place and time of their manufacturer, and occasionally even the Islamic ruler under which they were made, was a very important activity of royal courts. And the giving of these gifts was a very important royal custom. The giving of costumes was practiced throughout Islamic history, and indeed goes back before Islam in the Middle East, and was, indeed, a royal custom even in Europe. However, the institution of tiraz themselves—that is, weaving ateliers directly under court control, which produced objects which had inscriptions on them directly relating to the patron and time of weaving—this tends to be much more of a typical Islamic institution.