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KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Nishapur, geometric, ceramic, stonepaste
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS UNIT
This tile panel from Nishapur, Iran, is an example of the repetition characteristic of geometric design in the Islamic world. It consists of twenty-seven hexagonal tiles glazed turquoise and seven complete six-pointed star tiles glazed blue. The artist also included many blue stars that are cut off at the edge, suggesting the design extends infinitely past the limits of the actual panel. The simple repetitive pattern of alternating hexagons and stars is typical of this period. Also evident is the Islamic interest in creating dimensionally proportional forms: the side of each star corresponds exactly in measurement to the side of each hexagon, producing internal logic and harmonious balance.
It is likely that such panels decorated the interiors of residences or public buildings (see, for example, similar tilework on the walls in Layla and Majnun at School, fig. 17).
Although the overall composition is highly geometric, each tile also features nongeometric designs. The hexagonal tiles each contain a molded circular design of abstracted vegetal or floral shapes in relief. A lotus flower in relief decorates the interior of each star tile. These secondary patterns add texture to the surface of the panel and liveliness to the repetition of the overall geometric pattern.
This type of ceramic decoration with strong-colored glazes and bold patterns was typical of northeastern Iran in the fourteenth century. Excavations at Nishapur revealed many similar panels, as well as examples carved out of plaster and other materials. Nishapur, founded in the third century A.D., was a bustling medieval city before its destruction in the thirteenth century. Its success was due in part to its advantageous position on the Silk Road, the major overland trading route from China westward. Nishapur was also a center of production for ceramics like this tile panel, which dates from that city's later period. The Metropolitan Museum of Art carried out excavations in Nishapur in the 1930s and '40s that led to many important discoveries (see Daily Life in Medieval Nishapur). Objects such as this panel tell scholars and archaeologists much about the development of art and architecture in Iran, such as the fact that colorful tile panels decorated not only palaces and mosques, but also people's homes.
RELATED AUDIO FROM THE GALLERY GUIDE
Navina Haidar: One of the most distinctive and appealing features of Mughal architecture are the large-scale screens, window screens, which are known as jalis. There are all kinds of jalis that you see in Mughal architecture. There are floral ones, there are vegetal ones. And the ones that we're looking at here today at the Met are fantastic geometric ones, which are done in a style characteristic of the late sixteenth century and made in red sandstone, which was a favorite building material of the Mughal emperors in this period.
So these screens incorporate a wonderful and complex and yet very readable pattern of stars and hexagons and overlapping and interlocked geometric forms, to create a pierced surface through which light would have fallen on the floor in the same patterns. And that is what the beauty of the jali really is; that not only is it a surface, which is wonderful to look at in its own right, but it has an effect on the architecture around it by creating patterns on the floor.
They are made of single pieces of stone and require virtuosic carving and cutting skills on the part of the craftsmen. And a single mistake would render the whole thing unusable. So therefore the level of skill and craftsmanship is quite extraordinary in the making of these screens.