Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Qajar, 19th century CE
Materials and technique
68.5 x 53.5 cm
The multi-lobed lozenge coloured in brown and placed in a rectangle at the centre of the top border mentions neither a date nor an intended recipient. However, a talisman on gazelle skin measuring 72.5 x 59 cm, with decorations very similar to the present item, does exist in the collections of the Tareq Rajab Museum in Kuwait, indicating as its recipient a Qajar sultan, Muzaffar al-Din Shah, who reigned between 1896 CE and 1907 CE. Other known pieces date from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, in some cases even from the first decade of the twentieth century, and originate mainly from the Turkish and Persian regions. Gazelle skin is not in fact a rare support material, particularly for items - even relatively late ones - from Iran. In the squares at the upper and lower ends, as in the central motifs, texts indicate the direction from which the talisman should be viewed. One of the hypotheses for how these items were used is that they were hung on the walls of houses. The object reveals itself, moreover, in stages: firstly, as it were, from a distance, like a carpet, through the ensemble formed by its geometric shapes, and subsequently as a composition formed entirely of texts that must be studied at closer proximity in order to read them. This piece, however, has been folded in eight widthways, reducing it to a size of slightly more than 6.5 cm on this side. The traces of fold marks suggest that it was carried by someone - slipped inside a carrying case, in this case probably an amulet given the object’s precious nature. The nature of the inscriptions - that is, Qur’anic verses, names of God (some arranged in squares), prayers (du‘a’), amulet texts - is entirely standard for this type of object. To give an example, the few words in blue ink shown at the top, between the two final squares on the right, mark the beginning of a prayer that continues in red ink between the following squares, around the outside of the object and in the rectangle bordering the central motif. It appears in a variant on the talisman in tabular style of Qajar provenance, mentioned earlier, under the title “Friday prayer to obtain respect mixed with fear (hayba) and acceptance (qubul), while He brandishes the sword of victory”. Another noteworthy feature is the citation of divine epithets and of many prophets. Meanwhile the writing in red visible at the lower end of the talisman, between and above the squares, comprises two amulet texts (hirz) of Shia persuasion, one under the name of Husayn, the other under the name of Hasan - Hasan and Husayn being 'Ali’s sons; here, too, the beginning of the text is indicated in blue. In the 5 cm squares, which contain internal motifs based on varied colours and geometric shapes, we find Names of God and Qur’anic verses; here we can see that the object is intended to be magical, with a prophylactic, votive purpose.
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