Safavid, 17th century CE
Materials and technique
Incised iron alloy
Height 34.8 cm
This steel plaque was most likely created as part of larger assembly of plates forming a composition framing a central cartouche with openwork decoration. Shaped like a multi-lobed almond, it bears the Shia profession of faith, La illaha illallah wa Muhammadun rasul Allah wa 'Ali wali Allah (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet and 'Ali is His companion”). The surface is done in openwork, with the exception of the plain plate that outlines the shape of the sconce. The three-line inscription is written in thuluth script that stands out from a background of delicate spirals of foliage. These twining plants have bifid leaves and stylised florets in a flowing and dynamic design. Their precision and fineness are reminiscent of the meticulous work of illumination. The sconce’s shape also evokes book art from the Safavid era: multi-lobed mandorlas at the centre of the binding plates and medallions inscribed on the heart of the initial carpet pages of Qur’ans or literary works. This plaque belongs to a group of other such multi-lobed plates based on shape, design, and calligraphic style; in the absence of definite clues about the circumstances of their creation, it is difficult to assert that they were produced at the same time for the same usage. However, it seems well established that they were made as decoration for a door, and three of the plates in this group tell us something about how they might originally have been assembled (two additional plates from a private collection have recently been published in Melikian-Chirvani 2007, pp. 260-61, cat. nos. 61 and 62).
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