Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Two: Arabic Script and the Art of Calligraphy/ Featured Works of Art: Images 7–11/ Image 8

Image 8

Tiraz fragment
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)

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Calligraphy (thuluth script), Spain, sultan, courtly life, textile, silk

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.