Robe - Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Development Network
The Aga Khan Museum: Carpets and Textiles - 8th-11th century CE (?)  Place your mouse over the image
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Carpets and Textiles

Object name

Iran or China

8th-11th century CE (?)

Materials and technique
Silk samite

Height 124 cm

Accession number


This astonishing robe is unequalled in both its cut and fabric. There is scarcely anything in any of the preserved manuscripts to compare with the very roomy cut (Makariou 2007, p. 55, note 68). Similarly, the fabric, which has a very large-scale pattern, is extremely disconcerting; even more so the absence of compartmentalisation around the colossal birds facing one another and towering over smaller birds (ibid., note 69). Some details evoke Iranian textiles from the Sasanian tradition, in particular the beaded strip at the base of the birds’ wings. The state of preservation of the textile, which in itself is remarkable, gives precious clues: a broad halo on the back indicates the action of a body decomposing and the funerary use of the garment. This would dissuade one from thinking that the textile was used in an Islamic milieu, where bodies, wrapped in a shroud, were buried right in the earth (ibid., note 70). In contrast, garments made of imported fabric have been found in both Europe and in Xinjiang province, China. In this case the parallels with pieces discovered in Xinjiang are the most telling. One detail adds to the complexity of the piece: an inscription in kufic script in mirror writing was affixed to the shoulder, parallel to the sleeve. The inscription reads: “Glory and prosperity, long life to its possessor” (ibid., note 73). Manufacture in China based on an Iranian pattern cannot be completely ruled out, nor can a rather broad range of dates be dismissed (ibid., note 74). There are no examples of similar fabrics that would establish beyond all doubt that the piece was made in Iran. Rather, the list of available examples suggests this even though the absence of compartmentalisation has no equivalent in mediaeval production - the boundaries of which are, in any case, continually changing. It is certainly Chinese excavations that are contributing to our knowledge in this area.

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