From: 9/6/2019   To: 9/8/2018





Expressing power and piety: The Ghurid inscriptions at Chisht-i Sharif reconsidered
Viola Allegranzi
(Université Paris III - Sorbonne Nouvelle, France)

Two domed structures in Chisht-i Sharif, nowadays located in the Herat Province of Afghanistan, attest to the richness of Ghurid architectural patronage during the second half of the 12th century. The monuments are well known, though the lavish epigraphic program adorning the outer and inner surfaces of both structures remains understudied. This is due to the bad state of preservation of several epigraphic bands, further deteriorated by the passage of time, and to the lack of a complete photographic survey which would have shown lost details. Nevertheless, the cross-check of available photos, taken by surveyors at different times, allows us to complete the reading of certain texts and to deepen the analysis of the few unpublished ones.
This paper focuses primarily on some fragmentary inscriptions in carved stucco, which were once part of the eastern structure interior revetment. Although only partially legible, such texts provide new data on the range of royal titles and religious invocations encompassed within the Ghurid epigraphic repertory. The inner epigraphic friezes of the western structure similarly combine secular and religious texts, and will also be reviewed in a comparative perspective.
    Finally, some palaeographic issues will be addressed, such as the use of refined Kufic and cursive scripts displaying distinctive features, like punctate letter endings recalling animated scripts. The presence of long royal titulatures and unusual religious formulae, as well as the resort to Persian language and to a remarkable variety of monumental scripts are among the features which deserve some attention in the inscriptions of monuments in Chisht. In fact, epigraphic data could shed new light on the connection between the political and religious dimensions of Ghurid power in the area, and on the function of the two domed structures, which is still under discussion.



Amir Shaykhu al-‘Umari al-Nasiri and his epigraphic communications
Noha Abou-Khatwa
(The American University in Cairo)


Monumental inscriptions (epigraphic programs) are crucial for the art historian and their presence on buildings can answer questions relating to ownership, commemoration, authority, and position, among other things. An example of an epigraphic program that sheds light on the personality of its patron is the one amir Shaykhu al-Nasiri (d. 758/1357) ordered on his buildings in Cairo: the sabil, the mosque-madrasa, but especially the khanqa overlooking Saliba street. Shaykhu started his career when he was bought by al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun (d. 741/1341). His elevation to higher ranks happened under al-Nasir’s son al-Muzaffar Hajji (d.748/1347), reaching utmost power under another of al-Nasir’s children, Sultan Hasan (d. 762/1361). He was one of the wealthiest amirs of the Bahri Mamluk period. At some point he served as one of the de facto rulers of the country. This amir commissioned his first building in Cairo, the mosque-madrasa, in 750/1349, his sabil in 755/1354 and his khanqa in 756/1355. Shaykhu was a lover of hadith literature and commissioned many copies of the Sahih al-Bukhari, some of which survive today and are majestic examples of Mamluk calligraphy and illumination. It is thus not surprising that his mosque-madrasa and sabil are amongst the few examples of buildings in Cairo to carry hadith texts on their walls. This is especially relevant since the fourteenth century was the time when the two main canonical collections of hadith took on monumental roles in the spiritual and political lives of Muslims. The khanqa built across the street from the mosque-madrasa carries a curious set of inscriptions and they speak of the amir and his interest in Sufism. The shaykh in charge of the khanqa was Akmal al-Din Muhammad al-Rumi al-Babarti (d. 780/1378), the renowned muhaddith and Hanafi scholar. It is the aim of this paper to analyze the inscription program on these three buildings and tie them to the life and interests of the amir, with a special focus on his khanqa and the ostensible input of Shaykh Akmal al-Din al-Rumi on the inscriptions used. The epigraphic program here was symbolically charged and carried an expressive content conveying messages by the amir and the shaykh. An investigation of whether the hadiths used and the various Sufi texts connect the intent of both will thus ensue. Such an investigation will attempt an answer at the following questions: 1) Which verses from the Qur’an were used in each of the buildings and why? 2) How did an age when hadith canonical texts gained a sacramental value influence Shaykhu’s choice of hadith and its placement? 3) What is the source of the khanqa’s inscriptions? 4) How did these inscriptions stress the function of each edifice? 5) How can we draw a better picture of this important amir by answering the preceding questions?



ʿUyūn al-aqālīm aqlāmuhā: an enquiry into verses of poetry on Mamluk pen cases
Frédéric Bauden
(Liège Université)

Though the use of poetry on objects produced during the Mamluk period is well-known, scholars have paid little attention to it so far. As stressed by Doris Behrens-Abouseif (2010), many reasons can be invoked to explain this lack of interest: the poems are not easily read; the inscriptions usually mix fragments of different texts; some of them are frequently written with grammatical mistakes or misspellings. In my study, I propose to address the issue of the use of poetry in inscriptions found on pen cases of the Mamluk period. Several items have been preserved with verses of poetry. So far, these verses have not been fully and satisfactorily read. The perusal of the items identified allows us to state that a couple of poems were preferred when dealing with pen cases. Quite interestingly, both can be traced back to scholars who left a trace in the sources. This identification raises several questions that I would like to tackle in my paper: Who were these poets? Why was their poetry selected for inscriptions on objects, particularly on pen cases? What do these inscriptions tell us about the recipients of these objects? And finally, was the composition of poetry for objects a common trend among belletrists during the Mamluk period? I propose to answer these questions by invoking the objects (pen cases) and the sources (printed and handwritten).

D. Behrens-Abouseif (2010), “A Late Mamluk Lidded Tray with Poetic Inscription” In J. W. Frembgen, The Aura of Alif. The Art of Writing in Islam. Munich:  Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, 2010, pp. 173-85.


Inscriptions of Saladin in Sinai: A Study in the art of Ayyubid naskh calligraphy
Sami Salih Abd al-Malik al-Bayadi
(Ministry of Antiquities - Egypt)


The era of Saladin was characterized by the construction of citadels, the fortification of cities and the construction of schools in Egypt, because it was an era of military campaigns to expel the Franks and defend Egypt by building citadels and fortifying the cities with walls and gates. The citadel was the most important monument of this era and the first of its kind in Egypt.
It is important to study the inscriptions of Saladin, which chronicle the architecture of the citadels of Sadr ("al-Gindi") and Ayla ("Farʻun") in Sinai. The former took four years and eight months to build, according to the architectural inscriptions discovered so far. The oldest inscription in the citadel is the inscription of the prayer hall, dated 578 AH/ February-March 1183 AD, while the inscription of the northern gate--the last part of the citadel to be completed--is dated in Jumada II 583 AH/ August-September 1187 AD. In all, this citadel contains seven inscriptions from the era of Saladin, which provides us with a timeline for the construction of the citadel and its main parts, such as towers, walls, musalla, cisterns, and the grand mosque.

In the citadel of Ayla, four inscriptions have been discovered so far. They provide  information about the architecture of the citadel, the builder, and the princes who supervised the construction, and include the following: the inscription of the mosque (the date  of which is currently missing), a unique inscription on the building of the furnace of the armoury (dated Shawwal 583 AH/ 1187-1188 AD), and the inscription of tower building (dated Muharram 584 AH/ March 1188 AD). The fourth inscription is in poor condition.

These inscriptions were either carved in relief from limestone, or carved in intaglio in Nubian sandstone in Ayyubid naskh, which was the official style used in Ayyubid structures after 573 AH/ 1177-1178 AD.  They typically bear the name of Sultan Saladin, of the deputies of the Sultanate appointed by him in Egypt, and of the princes supervising the construction, and name the building section that has been completed (such as gates, towers, walls, grand mosque, mosque, cisterns, and furnace).

The inscriptions of Sadr and Ayla citadels are unique in that because they record the sequence of their construction without interruption, especially at Sadr citadel. Elsewhere this feature is only found in only the citadels of Damascus and Bosra.
Some of the inscriptions explain the political situation at that time. One of the inscriptions of Sadr citadel shows us the relationship between Taqi al-Din Umar and al-Malik al-Afdal, when the latter was deposed by Saldin, at the request of Taqi al-Din in  582 AH / 1186-1187 AD.

The inscriptions also provide us with the name of the Sakhtkman al-Nasiri family, which was famous for the construction of citadels. Otherwise, we would not have known about this family because historical sources do not mention it. In the light of recent archaeological discoveries, a new historical arrangement will be made for the inscriptions in the Ayyubid naskh in Egypt and Sinai, which will change what was previously known about the history of this type of script, especially in Egypt.               


‘I am a pot’: the poetical speech of Mamluk vessels
Doris Behrens-Abouseif
(SOAS University of London, UK)

This paper documents poetical inscriptions on Mamluk metal ware of the 14th and 15th centuries. The inscribed texts are mostly spoken in the first person praising the craftsmanship and beauty of the object, accompanied my maxims and good wishes, sometimes also revealing Sufi connotations. The texts are mostly vernacular. My paper will discuss a variety of inscribed objects and their texts in terms of their artistic and social context. Although I have already published some of these inscriptions this is the first time they are discussed as a subject of its own.   


Luted letters: The relief inscriptions on Kashan luster mihrabs
Sheila Blair  
(Boston College, USA)

This presentation traces the evolution in design in the relief inscriptions on the luster mihrab ensembles made at Kashan in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Six such mihrabs, dated between 1214 and 1334, survive, in addition to other individual plaques and related covers for cenotaphs. The tiles are signed by a handful of potters whose families ran intertwined businesses in the city of Kashan in central Iran. Other than the few dates and signatures, the texts on these mihrab ensembles contain Qur’anic verses or pious aphorisms, chosen for their appropriateness to prayer. The raised inscriptions, all made in the same technique of luting the letters to the surface, juxtapose varieties of angular and rounded scripts. Produced by a handful of craftsmen in the same city, they provide a telling example of how designers change and adapt epigraphic styles within a given tradition.



The public text revisited:  Inscriptions in early Islamic North Africa
Jonathan Bloom
(Boston College, USA)


In 1998 the late Irene Bierman published a book in which she argued that the Fatimid rulers of Egypt were the first Muslim rulers to use writing on buildings and textiles to present their own distinct ideology to the diverse members of Cairene society.  She argued the Fatimids presented their doctrines in a distinctly Fatimid script, and implied that the prevalence of Fatimid inscriptions led to the popularity of inscriptions in later Cairene buildings.  Bierman’s attractive hypothesis has gone largely unchallenged, but it ignores at least 150 years of public writing in North Africa before the Fatimids moved from there to Egypt.  This paper will explore the evidence for the pre-Fatimid public text in North Africa as well as the revival of public writing in contemporary—and nearby—Italy.

I. Bierman (1998), Writing signs: The Fatimid public text, Berkeley: University of California Press.



Barakat Muḥammad: Square kufic epigraphy in the medieval Maghrib
Umberto Bongianino & Péter Nagy,
(University of Oxford)   


The aesthetic phenomenon of square Kufic epigraphy, traditionally associated with the central and eastern lands of the Islamic world, is equally attested in the late medieval Maghrib under the Hafsid, Zayyanid, and Marinid dynasties, from the early fourteenth century onwards. Unlike its eastern counterpart, however, Maghribi square Kufic has been largely overlooked by modern epigraphists and art historians. In this paper, we shall present a corpus of little-known monumental inscriptions in brickwork, woodwork, and tile mosaics (zillij) from Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, spanning from the Zaytuna Mosque in Tunis to the madrasas of Fes and Meknes. Some of these inscriptions appear on minarets, while others are carved on wooden lattice screens decorating the courtyards of madrasas and mosques. Our paper will not only draw evidence from published examples, but also discuss the epigraphy of hitherto unstudied buildings, such as the majestic Marinid bridge of Qantarat al-Fallus (between Rabat and Meknes) and the congregational mosque of Mila (eastern Algeria), shedding some much-needed light on the historical and architectural significance of these monuments. Thanks to new research in the French photographic archives of the colonial period, we shall also attempt to reconstruct the aspect and identify the location of several inscriptions that were modified, vandalized, or even destroyed over the past century and a half. Although square Kufic clearly originated in the Islamic East, this style was adopted in the Maghrib to fulfill new functions and convey innovative messages, such as foundational texts extolling Hafsid patronage, or pious formulae specific to the religious context of the region. The main aim of this paper is to add a new element to our understanding of the arts and architecture of the medieval Maghrib, demonstrating how, in the propagation of doctrinal and ideological principles, the placement and configuration of certain epigraphic texts mattered just as much as their content. In particular, we shall argue that the appearance of the formula “Barakat Muhammad” on several buildings commissioned by the Marinid sultan Abu al-Hasan (r. 1331–1351) should be understood as part of his attempts to capitalize on certain popular forms of cult and remembrance of the Prophet, which were becoming increasingly common among his subjects. A close examination of the intellectual milieu and religious currents in the Marinid realm demonstrates that these two words must have meant much more than their literal translation (“Muhammad’s blessing”) to their contemporaries. In fact, we believe that these ostentatious inscriptions in square Kufic reflected the sultan’s espousal of certain Sufi doctrines mainly followed by the shurafa’ or descendants of Muhammad, in keeping with the Marinids’ endeavors to officialize the celebration of the Mawlid, the Prophet’s birthday, throughout their domains.



 The Arabic inscriptions of the monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos
Razan Francis
(Bennington College)


Since their rediscovery under layers of plaster in 1943, the stucco Arabic inscriptions (1230-1260) decorating the walls and vaults of the monastery of Santa Maria de Las Huelgas in Burgos (northern Spain) have remained until now largely unstudied. A Gothic monument located on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and harboring the sizable Almohad banner of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the monastery’s inscriptions are vital for our understanding of the artistic mechanisms at the height of the Spanish Reconquista. These stucco decorations were created under the kings Ferdinand III (r. 1230-1252) and Alfonso X (r. 1252-1284) during the war with the Almohads and the recapture of Cordoba and Seville. This paper will examine the inscriptions through the lens of artistic production that emerged from this new expansion extending the Castilian domain from Burgos and Leon to Murcia and Seville. In focusing on patronage and craftsmanship, it will analyze these inscriptions through comparison with other monuments, commissioned by Fernando III and Alfonso X, which incorporate Arabic epigraphy (including bilingual and multilingual projects). The clear differences among these decorative projects demonstrate how the cultural and political setting, audiences and readership, and building’s function informed the inscriptions’ style, form, and meaning. While archival documents attest that twelve Muslim craftsmen executed the stucco decorations at Las Huelgas, there are no extant examples of similar (earlier or contemporaneous) architectural ornamentation. The paper explores these compositions by looking first at the monastery’s artefacts. The striking resemblance of the stucco decoration with the the well-preserved textiles that are displayed in the church’s royal sarcophagi illuminates the fluidity of transmission across mediums and materials of inscriptions and artistic motifs. These textiles were modelled after Almohad textiles to decorate the funerary caskets or shroud the bodies of the deceased royal family members. Further examination of Visigothic stone carving, as well as objects, textiles, and coins from Islamic Spain (from the Umayyad through the Almohad periods) and the larger Islamic world (Fatimid, Seljuk), reveals the artistic interaction and the mobility of ideas among the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean. Ornamenting interior walls with carved stucco was already practiced in earlier Islamic Iberian architecture. Despite the scarcity of evidence, the Almohads’ use of inscriptions in stucco architectural ornamentation was indeed inspired by textile compositions, as shown in the little-studied converted mosque of Almeria (now the Ermita de Santiago Finana). However, in Las Huelgas, calligraphy becomes intrinsic to the decoration, not merely relegated to the borders or friezes, even extending to ornamentation of the vaults and ceilings. Las Huelgas presents an unprecedented, almost anachronistic, translation into stucco of calligraphy in different styles and sizes; of decorative vegetal and geometric motifs; and of iconography from various Islamic or Christian artefacts. It established, I argue, a new practice that shaped later trends in monuments such as the Reales Alcazares of Seville, the synagogues of Cordoba and Toledo, the Alhambra, and even Marinid architecture in North Africa—a practice that acquired its novelty and richness from the new multicultural settings.



Royal protocols of the Great Seljuq sultans in monumental inscriptions
Roberta Giunta
(Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale", Italy)


Monumental inscriptions patronised by the Great Seljuqs are attested in a wide area of the Islamic lands stretching from eastern Turkey to the region of Khurasan. More than thirty inscriptions, generally well preserved, can be ascribed to a chronological framework ranging from the middle of the 11th to the middle of the 12th century. In particular, they date back to the reigns of sultan Malik Shah I b. Alp Arslan (465-485/1073-1092), of his brother Tutush I (emir of Damascus: 471-485/1078-1092, and sultan of Damascus 485-488/1092-1095) and his son Muhammad I Tapar b. Malik Shah I (sultan of Persia and Iraq: 498-511/1105-1118).
A preliminary classification of texts—along with a close comparison with contemporary inscriptions issued by other Turkic dynasties—allows some interesting aspects to emerge, with regard to the texts’ content, the variety in scripts, and above all the titles borne by the sultans and high state officials. The royal protocols, stressing the political prestige and religious authority, shed light on the complexity of the Seljuq sultanate and its strictly hierarchical structure of power. Further relevant aspects can be observed thanks to the comparison with the royal protocols attested on the coins.



Carved letters, designs and ornaments: Ilkhanid stuccos and “signatures” of their craftsmen
Ana Marija Grbanovic
(Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg)


This study proposes a re-examination of twenty Ilkhanid (1256-1335) monuments with stucco repertoires. They retain signatures of stucco craftsmen and are mainly in Arabic and, at times, Persian. These monuments are located in Iran and neighboring territories. The research comprises artistic and historical examination of these signatures. Its aim is to provide new information about identity, profession and mobility of craftsmen, as well as stucco workshop composition. The analysis attempts to surpass traditional examinations of craftsmen signatures, which were mainly concerned with their semantic meaning, the location on the stucco revetments, and, in particular, the identification of craftsmen and their mobility based on the nisbas in their signatures. To this aim, the study suggests that both the signature and its support, which is the stucco revetment, need to be considered as one: the trace and signature of the craftsmen. These findings are valuable for a better understanding of stucco production, the society of artists and patrons commissioning the Ilkhanid monuments and their decorative repertoires. The consideration of stucco artistic techniques, the detailed examination of repertoires and their respective signatures, therefore are a valuable sources to the identity, mobility and task division of the stucco craftsmen. The relationship between signatures of craftsmen and patrons are also considered: they provide information on the links between patrons and the material culture they sponsored. The paper begins by examining a larger corpus of Ilkhanid craftsmen signatures (comprising names, surnames and verbs denoting their type of activity) in wood, lustre tiles, stone and stucco medium. Double signatures, such as those of heads of workshop and calligraphers, or architects and builders, prove especially informative on the use of different verbs to denote different artistic or architectural activities. This examination provides an insight into the differences between signatures in different media, which reflect the artistic techniques and role of calligraphers in inscription design, which is important for wall paintings, lustre tiles and wooden inscriptions. Stucco craftsmen signatures, due to the different design process and production methods, generally reflect the signatures of the heads of workshops – master craftsmen. The research combines the examination of signatures by investigating the different artistic techniques employed by the craftsmen. It tries to discern a link between signatures of workshops and artistic technique knowledge: a skill repository that migrated with them. The findings propose that stucco masters signed their works and their repeating signatures (cases of Bistam, Natanz, Turbat-i Jam, Ushturjan) reflected the use of the same artistic techniques and designs for stucco revetments. Differently from wall paintings, wooden and ceramic media, stuccos do not seem to have been signed by calligraphy experts, who helped design inscriptions. This is most likely because stucco craftsmen possessed this knowledge or because calligraphers only designed small sketches for stuccos. Stucco craftsmen mobility can thus be understood as long-distance (Turbat-i Jam-Natanz-Ushturjan; Sultaniyya-Ushturjan-Linjan-Na’in-Yazd-Abarquh; Iran-Azerbaijan-Pirsaat river) and short-distance (Bistam-Damghan; Haftshuya-Garladan-Linjan; Qurva-Sultaniyya). Furthermore, in some cases there appears to be links between patrons and craftsmen who were engaged on commissions (Na’in): they were sometimes from the same areas or settlements.



Sixteenth-century Islamic gravestones from the Malay world
Heba Hassanein & Nurul Iman Rusli,       
(Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia)    


Among the earliest epigraphic evidence of the Islamization of the Malay World are a number of tombstones inscribed in Arabic and Malay. Known as ‘Batu Aceh’ or the Aceh stone, this type of tombstone is popular in 13th century Aceh, hence its name. It was later introduced to the Malay Peninsula and constitute a valuable historical resource, not only because they reveal names, dates and places, but for their choice of Quranic verses, prayers and poetic couplets. In Malay Peninsula, Batu Aceh can be found in various states including Melaka, Perak, Pahang and Johor and is mostly reserved for royalty and notables. This paper focuses on the tombstones of three key members of the Malacca Sultanate; Sultan Mansur Shah (r.1459–1477); the seventh Sultan of Malacca and his son, Sultan Ala’uddin Riayat Shah (r. 1477–1488), as well as his daughter in law, Tun Teja, the wife of the deposed Sultan of Malacca, Sultan Mahmud Shah (r. 1488–1511). These tombstones represent the earliest royal inscriptions in Malaysia and among the most important in the Malay world. This paper will discuss the epitaphic text, its script style and decorative motifs, tracing their stylistic influence and artistic traditions to Indonesia as well as the main Islamic land, thus shedding new light on the field of Malay tombstones and abridging the gap between the Malay World and mainland Muslim World.Furthermore, studying these three tombstones in situ and in sequence exposes the difference in their content and design. The tombstones of Sultan Mansur Shah and that of Sultan Ala’uddin Riayat Shah and Tun Teja’s present important information on the intellectual and cultural milieu of Malacca, an important wealthy port city that controlled the Asian trade, at a very critical time in the history of the Malacca Sultanate and their struggle against the Portuguese.


Diyarbakr (Amid) and Mayyafariqin, 426-485/1034-1092: The interplay of chronicles and epigraphy
Carole Hillenbrand
(University of St. Andrews, UK)

This paper will attempt to analyse, by a close study of the chronicle of Ibn al-Azraq al-Fariqi and other supplementary sources, how far the series of magnificent 11th-century inscriptions, mostly on the walls of Diyarbakr, reveal the concerns and priorities of the rulers of this area in this period. The chronicles flesh out the somewhat skeletal references to local rulers and local élites in the monumental inscriptions, and thus contextualise the formal, proclamatory tenor of the epigraphy. The paper will seek to explain the concentration of this epigraphy on the city walls of Diyarbakir, and thus to compare the public image of the Marwanid rulers projected by the inscriptions with the rather different evidence of the chronicles on their political aims, the nature of their rule (e.g. their favourable treatment of Christians) and their way of life.


The inscriptions of the Qutb Minar in Delhi: between Islam and Hinduism
Robert Hillenbrand
(University of St. Andrews, UK)


The inscriptions of the Qutb Minar were read and published in summary form by Horowitz about a century ago, and all subsequent work on the building has remained in his debt. But while their content is sufficiently well known, surprisingly little work has been done on their form, nor has their relationship to other contemporary inscriptions, whether Indo-Islamic or those of the Iranian world, been the subject of close analysis. The present paper is a first and tentative attempt to fill some of the gaps in the scholarly record. In particular, the paper will consider the carving technique, the balance between the script and the ornament applied to it, and how the bands of epigraphy dovetail with the design of the monument.


Processing the Islamic inscriptions of the Middle Ages:  The Thesaurus d’épigraphie islamique
Ludvik Kalus
(Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), France)


This paper will present the database Thesaurus d’épigraphie islamique, which aims to gather inscriptions from all Islamic countries, from the rise of the Islam to the year 1000 H (1591-1592 AD). This paper will begin with a review of earlier attempts to collect Arabic inscriptions (especially in the Répertoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe). It will then move on to discuss the setup, design, and theoretical principles of the Thesaurus d’épigraphie islamique, which also includes Persian and Turkish inscriptions.

This project was fortunate to get the financial support of the Max van Berchem Foundation in Geneva, and from 1992 on, with the use of computing technologies, it was able to start in good conditions. The database currently contains some 40,000 inscriptions. On the occasion of this conference, and as we are transferring the responsibility of the project to Frédéric Bauden (Liège University), I would like to share my experiences in this field, and to elaborate on the weaknesses, as well as the positive aspects of the project.


Inscriptions from the Golden Horde period and the Crimean khanate in Crimea: A body of hitherto neglected material within the study of the inscriptions of Islamic lands
Nicole Kançal-Ferrari
(Istanbul Şehir University)


Crimea was an important centre of the Golden Horde Khanate and later the core center of the Crimean Khanate. Among the most important remains testifying to this past are inscriptions on numerous building and gravestones. Several inscriptions from the Golden Horde and Crimean Khanate periods remain in situ, and many others are currently exhibited in museums or stored elsewhere. These inscriptions not only provide useful historical data but also contain much detail pointing to the larger cultural environment of their period. Qur’anic inscriptions and hadith on gravestones in Arabic are particularly common on the edifices of the Golden Horde period, while much material from the Crimean Khanate period also bears rich poetic language in Ottoman Turkish which developed in parallel to the language in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul. Despite the importance of these inscriptions for the historic, religious, and cultural understanding of the Northern Black Sea region and its place in the broader Islamic world, few of these inscriptions have ever been properly published or studied. This essay thus aims to present a short overview of the inscriptions in Crimea from the thirteenth to the eighteen century and, focusing on some specific examples placed in comparative context, to discuss further dimensions like what we can glean from their placement on edifices and their selection of passages from textual sources and what the information they convey tells us about patronage relations. The material presented in this essay was gathered during significant fieldwork I conducted over the last twenty years, most recently in 2012–2014 as part of the Cultural Heritage Inventory Project on Turco-Muslim heritage in Crimea. This inventory was published as Crimean Historical and Cultural Heritage Inventory Project (Kırım'daki Kırım (Türk Islâm) Mimarî Yadigârlar), YTB (Presidency For Turks Abroad and Related Communities) 2016, co-edited with Hakan Kırımlı. We are currently working on the English version of this volume, which will include a discussion of the inscriptions (forthcoming May 2019 in collaboration with a team of scholars and with the support of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University).* As it is my hope to have these inscriptions included in the corpus of the material culture of Islamic lands, I would be happy to have the opportunity to present this material to a wider audience.

*Some of my other publications with discussions of inscriptions are “Contextualising the Decorum of Golden Horde-Period Mosques in Crimea: Artistic Interactions as Reflected in Patronage and Material Culture,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, no. 143 (2018): 207–30; “An Italian Renaissance Gate for the Khan: Visual Culture in Early Modern Crimea,” Muqarnas 34, no. 1 (2017): 85–123; and “Saray'a Bağlı Bir Cami ve Haziresi: Kırım Hanlığı’nın Payitahtı Bahçesaray’daki Hansaray’ın Haziresi” [A Mosque and a Cemetery Attached to the Palace: the Enclosed Cemetery of the Palace of the Khans in the Capital of the Crimean Khanate in Bahçesaray], Belleten 66, no. 246 (August 2002): 371–420.



The Database for Ottoman Inscriptions, 2009-2019
Hakan Karateke, Kayoko Hayashi & Hatice Aynur
(The University of Chicago)

This paper will present some of the distinct features of Ottoman inscriptions and the methodological challenges of studying them. The three co-editors of the Database for Ottoman Inscriptions project ( will take the opportunity to offer up for discussion some of the issues they have encountered in building up the database for over a decade. The editors had to develop solutions to myriad methodical complications. Even the term ‘Ottoman inscription’ needed a clear definition. What makes an inscription ‘Ottoman’? Geography, political subjugation of the relevant location, and most importantly, the language in which the texts were composed were all factors that the editors had to take into consideration in coming up with satisfactory and consistent answers. For example, it may be logical to regard an inscription in Turkish language on a sabil-kuttab commissioned by an Ottoman grandee in seventeenth-century Cairo as an ‘Ottoman inscription.’ But what about inscriptions in Arabic language in Palestine, another in Armenian in Diyarbakr, one in Bosnian in Sarajevo, or in Karamanli (i.e., Turkish in Greek letters) in Alanya? While this presentation will expound on such issues, a part of the paper will concern the material and textual characteristics of these inscriptions. The presenters will give a brief overview of the developments of Ottoman inscriptions over the centuries. By looking at examples from different periods, we hope to provide an outline of the development of inscriptions produced in the Ottoman lands.



Marvel of adornments in Mughal edifices; Inscriptions in the Wazir Khan Masjid
Mamoona Khan
(GPGCW, University of Gujrat Rawalpindi Campus, Pakistan)


Mughal reign in the subcontinent (1526-1857) introduced Persian and Central Asian traditions to the soil, establishing a new school of miniature painting, along with entrusting monumental edifices; both religious and secular. These buildings are bedecked with ornamental motifs specifically associated with Islam, iconic in character, where the figurative is replaced with geometric and calligraphic intricacies. Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan is a rich specimen of the style, built in the reign of Shahjahan (1627-1658), the fifth ruler of the Mughal Dynasty. It is a repertoire of Muslim ornamental motifs; the most captivating among these are the calligraphic adornments, replete in the edifice. From the monumental entrance gate to the façade of the sanctuary, separated into five arched subsections that lead to five iwans, and the main hall of the sanctuary with similar five compartments, are satiated with calligraphic inscriptions of ocular elegance. On the spandrels, soffits, conches, domed ceilings and walls, there manifests epitome of calligraphic ornament. Content of inscriptional repertoire is very rich; from Qur’anic ayahs to hadith, and adages of saints and mystics of high erudition are bedecking every nook and corner of the masjid. Most of these are in Arabic but a few Persian verses are also inscribed here. Surat al-Fath, for instance is inscribed on the central arch, surrounding it from three sides in lapis blue against white. Various styles of calligraphy are used to adorn the masjid, including Nasta’liq, Naskhi, Thuluth, and above all some very fine specimens of Arabic ambigrams also adorn the edifice.

In the western quarters of the world ambigrams were introduced not earlier than 1970 by John Langdon and Scott Kim with only one exception by Peter Newell that dates back to 1893. Masjid Wazir Khan takes almost a four hundred years leap in the use of ambigrams. Aesthetic pleasure that one experiences by placing just a glance at its monumental gate, or facade of the sanctuary or on its interior is an experience that can be felt spiritually and cannot be expressed verbally. In its colour combinations or selection of appropriate techniques for interior and exterior representations bespeaks the technical virtuosity of its artists. Kashikari is used for the gate and facade while Fresco and stucco for two and three dimensional inscriptions are used respectively for the interior. The paper is based on qualitative analytical research, an onsite study of the edifice to probe Mughal aesthetics in the context of inscriptions adorning the religious edifice. Veracity of hadith and apothegms of mystic saints and Qur’anic ayahs will be traced and checked from their authentic sources. The inscriptions do not stand isolated, rather embedded within intricate geometric formations of stalactites, triangles, wedge shapes, diamond shapes, etc. these are further added with organic forms of arabesques and simple leaves, flowers and plant ornaments. The Mughal edifice stands on the soil of Lahore as a jewel in its colour combinations, selection of text of its inscriptions, their calligraphic styles, s?r?ya motif bedecking the interior of its five domed ceilings of the sanctuary with Dar?d for the Holy Prophet (pbuh) inscribed in novel varieties is a unique specimen of its kind. Religious reverence with which words of Allah and the Holy Prophet are adorned, give vitality and dynamic spirit to its inscriptions. It gives sanctity to the words of the Holy Prophet “good writing makes the truth stands out.”



Micro and macro power projection in the medieval Islamic world: The architectural and numismatic epigraphic evidence
Richard McClary
(The University of York)


This paper addresses the two extremes of the largest, immobile and the smallest, mobile examples of imperial power projection. By studying the use of the circular roundel format, with often identical inscriptions or imagery employed at either end of the scale, the specific and visually similar ways in which a variety of medieval rulers projected and displayed power and legitimacy, using examples from across the medieval Islamic world, can be demonstrated. The relationship between architectural and numismatic text and images has previously been addressed briefly in the context of Fatimid Cairo, but this paper draws on a wider range of broadly contemporaneous examples in order to highlight the more universal nature of the phenomenon. Public buildings and coinage are both in the public domain and form part of wider programmes of state legitimisation and establishing legitimacy. Architectural epigraphy is generally only engaged with on a visual level, while coinage is both visual and inherently tactile, placing both the word of God and the name of the ruler into the hands of the general public, within the lands of the named ruler, and in many cases far beyond. The evidence in this paper is based on three main case studies, spanning the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, and encompassing North Africa, Anatolia, and Central Asia. The close correlation between stone roundels on the al-Hakim Mosque minarets and the al-Aqmar Mosque are compared with the format and textual content of Fatimid coinage. Following an examination of the cultural context from which these examples emerged, attention turns to the use of epigraphic carved stucco roundels in Qarakhanid monuments, including previously unpublished examples from the Shah Fazl Tomb in Safid Buland. These feature the same Qur’anic text around the edge as is found, in the same location and using the same script, on numerous issues of dihrams by Qarakhanid rulers in the eleventh century minted in nearby Uzgend. The final examples draw on the lithic carved roundels seen on the façade of Rum Seljuq monuments in Anatolia, including the ones at the hospital of ‘Izz al-Din Kay Kawus in Sivas. This material is examined alongside the coins issued in both Sivas and Konya which also feature leonine and solar imagery in a Sultanic context, as well as contemporary seal stamps. This paper examines how medieval Islamic rulers established both permanence and legitimacy through the use of inscriptions in various media and at vastly different scales, but often imparting a common message. This phenomenon can be shown to have occurred in similar ways across vast areas, and from strikingly different contexts, both Sunni and Shi’a.



Stars and symmetry: The Prophet Muhammad’s name in architectural inscriptions
Bernard O’Kane  
(The American University in Cairo, Egypt)


As we would expect, the name of Muhammad is among the most celebrated in architectural inscriptions. The two-part Muslim profession of faith that mentioned God and well as his prophet also makes it unsurprising that Allah is among the most frequent accompaniment to the name of Muhammad.  The examples I will show range mostly from the central Islamic Lands of Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Iran and from the 11th to the 16th centuries, these being the time range in which they occur most commonly. They include some of the finest masterpieces of Arabic calligraphy and design, in a wide range of scripts, settings and materials.

I will also raise the question of why some of their forms were so popular, in particular the symmetrical star-shaped examples. Was there a connection between the five- and six-pointed star shapes used for the name and the seal of Solomon? Another point to be explored is the further possibility of a connection between the Solomonic hexagram and the polylobed rosette that connect architectural examples and many similar ones in devotional manuscripts.


Rituals of reading: Funerary inscriptions at the Makli necropolis, Pakistan
Fatima Quraishi
(University of California, Riverside)

Located on a natural ridge along the Indus river in Sindh, Pakistan, the Makli necropolis has been a place of near continuous construction from its inception in the late fourteenth century as a modest Sufi hermitage. The site attracted pilgrims of all socio-economic backgrounds, including nobility, who sought to be buried in the shadow of saintly tombs and benefit from the sacred aura of this blessed landscape. The extraordinarily diverse architecture of stone carved monuments and tile-clad brick tombs at Makli and their extensive epigraphic programmes testify to these devotions. Existing scholarship on Makli has focused on a few monumental structures, approaching them as singular artefacts and treating inscriptions solely as artistic forms. This fragmentary and reductive approach has eclipsed the critical role that accretional building practices might have played in establishing the necropolis as a space of worship and pilgrimage. In this paper, I examine the Makli necropolis through its inscriptions to consider ways in which these texts might inform and direct viewing and ritual practices at the site. This investigation reveals aspects of visitation and reception that have been elided from histories of Makli thus far and situates the necropolis within the wider world of Islamic funerary architecture.



Lapidary styles in medieval Anatolia: Expressions of legitimacy, regionalism, or training?
Scott Redford
(SOAS University of London, UK)


What lies behind the sometimes bewildering variety of cursive styles in Rum Seljuk inscriptions from 12th and 13th century Anatolia? The variety, as well as irregularity of Rum Seljuk lapidary inscriptional style has often been contrasted with the regularity and discipline of “Ayyubid naskh” found on Seljuk era buildings in Anatolia. And what about the conservative nature of angular Kufic styles found on the inscriptions of dynasties like the Danishmendids and Artuqids? This paper attempts to examine the complexities and contradictions of 13th century Anatolian epigraphy by trying to relate lapidary styles to dynastic organization, expressions of dynastic legitimacy, and conflict.



Refining Arabic typography: Square Kufic in Bulaq press books
Mamoun Sakkal & Ahmed Mansour,
(Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Writing and Scripts Center)


The Bulaq Press played an essential role in promoting the spirit of scholarship and knowledge dissemination in Egypt during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its publications exhibited a fine degree of good-design and print quality as particular typefaces were used, and typographic ornamentations were incorporated. Special attention was paid to developing proper and authentic Arabic typefaces for use in the printing of Bulaq’s books. These included Naskh style typefaces in different sizes for setting long body texts and titles in Arabic and Turkish, as well as Nasta’liq typefaces for printing of books written in Persian.

However, improving the standards of book production was not limited to designing and producing fine printing typefaces, it extended to other typographic ornamentation devices. One of the best examples was typesetting of Square Kufic to decorate the text opening pages of several Bulaq books, herein referred to as “opening pages.” State support for the Bulaq Press allowed it to set the standards for printing in the region, and provided the resources for improving the design of opening pages of books where most of the graphic treatments were concentrated. The shift of book production in Egypt after 1850 to works of classical Arabic and Islamic literature was marked from the graphic point of view by the standard use of elaborate opening pages, which eventually incorporated Square Kufic designs as the ultimate sign of heritage revival. Although such opening pages were commonly decorated with illustrative material prior to the establishment of Bulaq Press, as well as in the early years of the Press production, this changed to using printing ornaments set in metal as early as 1841.

By 1881, Bulaq was the first press to incorporate Square Kufic script into such ornaments in the opening pages of the book Hashiat al-Sajjai, a trend soon imitated by other presses in Egypt and abroad including Istanbul and Beirut. For the next seventy-five years, a small but varied repertoire of phrases was incorporated into such designs. The subtle variations of the printing process give these Square Kufic pieces a charming and lively effect, and the different designs used to set them, which seem to become darker and more square over time, can become a useful tool for identifying and dating books of different presses. Using the small and uniform metal fleurons to typeset Square Kufic was the equivalent of using tiles on building walls, where this style of calligraphy originated.

In addition to briefly documenting the evolution of Bulaq Press typefaces, this paper aims to survey the uniquely Egyptian phenomenon of incorporating Square Kufic calligraphy into the opening pages of Bulaq’s books, and to analyze their content, style, and place in the history of book graphic arts of the Middle East.




Islamic inscriptions - Documents of Muslim life in China (or, how to survive in Confucian-dominated surroundings)
Barbara Stöcker-Parnian
(Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany)

Islamic Inscriptions in mosques and on tombs are important and interesting documents showing the historical development of Muslim life in China. They illustrate the regulation and rules of a religious minority group, thus guaranteeing them safety and protection in a Confucian-dominated society. Therefore these inscriptions were important for the survival of the Muslim community in China. The vast majority of the Islamic inscriptions in China are in Chinese, however the early texts which have survived are in Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Arabic inscriptions and calligraphies have been used in mosque architecture, on tombstones, on stone tablets and on commodities of daily life (cups, plates …). The earliest reliable Islamic inscriptions date back to the Song dynasty (12th-13th century) and were found in the former port of Quanzhou (Zaitun) in Fujian. Most of these more than 200 stone inscriptions from mosques and graves, published by Chen Dasheng (1984) were in Arabic, Persian and Turkish and have very few Chinese characters. This shows that these Muslims were still strangers living in foreigners quarters (fanfang), separated from the local Chinese, and used mainly their own language in daily life.

However later, Ming Imperial edicts (1368-1644) forced Muslims living in China to integrate and sinicize and they became Hui, the Chinese Muslims, using the Chinese language in speaking and writing, and the construction of pagoda style mosques. All of these Hui mosques have Chinese inscriptions on stone tablets and wooden boards, of which many have been published in the last years.

The contents of these Islamic inscriptions demonstrate the daily survival of the communities in the Chinese Confucian-dominated society. Many mosques have old inscriptions, recording imperial edicts or the imperial support for the foundation, rebuilding and repair of mosques in the Islamic communities, - stone documents which were very important for the legitimization and protection in turbulent times. It was the highest aim of the Hui community to get the official approval of the emperor, which was carved in stone, thereby seen by everybody, and forming a “protection shield” against critical Confucian officials. However, also these stone shields could be damaged during war and rebellions, of which the last was the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Nevertheless, after the turn to normality the old inscriptions were restored again and can be seen in the manifold mosques all over China.

Also important for the survival of the Muslim communities were the waqf or religious endowments inscriptions. These texts record the financial support of mosques and religious services, the construction and maintenance of water systems, hospitals, and schools. Charitable deeds and donations had a long tradition and were very common for Chinese Buddhists, and so it was not unusual for Chinese Muslims to use this possibility to support their communities, which is documented in many ways. These two kind of Islamic inscriptions – imperial edicts and endowments – refer to some very important factors for the survival of the Muslims in China, while other foreign religions like Nestorianism, Manichaeism or Judaism disappeared in the long Chinese history.

D. Chen (1984), Quanzhou yisilanjiao shike / Islamic inscriptions in Quanzhou (Zaitun), Fuzhou: Fujian renmin.



Two unique inscriptions on the qiblah wall of sultan al-Muʾayyad Shaykh's complex
Tarek Swelim
(College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar)


As part of my current research on the Circassian Mamluks, I found these two inscriptions intriguing and required further investigation. This paper addresses the inscriptions from an art historical point of view. The two inscriptions run simultaneously across the entire qibla wall of Sultan al-Mu’ayyad Shaykh’s Complex at Bab Zuwayla in Cairo, which was built during one of the most exciting and decisive periods of Egypt’s Mamluk history (1415-1420). The inscriptions are unique for multiple reasons. Firstly, they are part of the extravagant decorations of the qibla wall, which is divided into two registers. The upper register has the two inscription bands, in different sizes and made of stucco. The large one utilizes Naskhi calligraphy, while the smaller one is Kufic. They both frame the eight windows of the qibla wall, vertically and horizontally. The Naskhi letters are bold, long and monumental. Those of the Kufic ones are long and small, almost like a border to the Naskhi. The lower register of the qibla wall is different, as it is lavishly decorated with multi-colored marble panels, as is the main mihrab. It is uncommon to find the combination of Naskhi and Kufic inscriptions together on the same surface in the architectural decoration of Islamic Cairo. Secondly, one finds that the text of the smaller (Kufic) band is hard to read, as it is dusty and relatively high. Records tell us that it mostly consists if Koranic verses. Part of this study is to investigate the content of that inscription, which has not yet been published. Meanwhile, the text of the larger Naskhi inscription is divided into two parts. The first part contains Koranic verses, while the second part is consisting of glorifying and honorific titles of the Sultan. While extensive inscriptions that glorify rulers were previously used on exterior facades of buildings of the period, this is the first time that such a combination of Koranic and honorific inscriptions appear on the interior. Thirdly, the text itself is quite curious. The words of the larger Naskhi inscription are crowded near the end; the letters are not given the required spacing as in the rest of the inscription. In addition, the honorific titles read that Sultan al-Mu'ayyad Shaykh is ruler over the Arabs (al-Arab), the non-Arabs (al-Ajm), the Turks (al-Turk) and al-Daylam. In that part, the title “King of the Daylam” seems like an addition, probably as a personal boast since the power of Sultan al-Mu’ayyad Shaykh had not yet reached that region. This paper will try to investigate the historical facts relative to the truth behind that puzzling part of the inscription.Fourthly, one finds that between the eight windows of the qibla wall, there are rectangular areas that are decorated with vertical climbing arabesques, inside of which are lamp-mosque like designs. The arabesques are topped with interesting Naskhi inscriptions, which are arranged symmetrically to create a mirror effect, with another band of Kufic inscription above them, all of which are hard to read. This composition of mirrored Naskhi inscription and vertical climbing arabesque is quite unique and has no prototype in the architectural decoration of Islamic Cairo. The paper will study the two unique inscriptions, to try to find similarities with later examples, and explore where the ideas to have them implemented came from.



Development of formulae of early Islamic Arabic rock graffiti in light of recent discoveries in al-Hijaz
Risa Tokunaga
(Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo & Kanazawa Universities)


The people of the Arabian Peninsula have written graffiti on rocks since the first half of the first millennium BCE, and many examples of rock graffiti remain today along the ancient routes of Arabia. The practice of writing graffiti has grown and declined over time, but its last peak occurred during the early Islamic period (7–9 c. CE/1–3 c. AH), especially in al-Hijaz. During this period, the Arabic script developed dramatically, a fact that can be observed in the rock graffiti. According to Ory (1990), Hoyland (1997) and Imbert (2011), this rapid development was not confined to letter shapes, but extended to the text of the inscriptions. However, the number of dated inscriptions is limited, and previous studies relied on materials from different sites and backgrounds. In this paper, I intend to clarify the correlation between graffiti text and letter shapes using new materials from a sole site in Wadi al-Khirqah discovered by the Saudi-Japanese al-Jawf/Tabuk Archaeological Project (Kanazawa University) to confirm the development of graffiti texts. Wadi al-Khirqah is situated approximately 75 km northwest of Tabuk in al-Hijaz, and 105 examples of early Islamic graffiti were registered at the site in March 2017. The graffiti is undated, but many examples include names and genealogies. Thus far, I have been able to construct two family trees using 28 graffiti inscriptions by 4 generations and compare their texts by generation. As a result, the development of their contents and formulae became clear: Whereas the formula ‘Allahumma ighfir li-PN’ (O Allah, forgive PN) can be seen throughout generations, the formula ‘Ana PN…’ (I am PN/I, PN…) is confined to the earliest period. Shahadah (confession of faith) appears only in later generations, but prior to this, ‘amana PN bi…’ (PN believes in …) appears as a proclamation of faith. The basmalah (the formulaic phrase “in the name of God”) and the name of the prophet Muhammad only appear in later graffiti, but the names of other prophets are seen in the earlier period. These results do not contradict previous studies. In the next stage, paleographical analysis of the 105 graffiti texts is conducted to demonstrate the correlation between text and letter shapes. The results are verified using graffiti from the surrounding area, with consideration given to its historical background.

R. Hoyland (1997), “The Content and Context of Early Arabic Inscriptions,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, vol. 21, pp. 77-102.
F. Imbert (2011), “L’Islam des pierres : l’expression de la foi dans les graffiti arabes des premiers siècles,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, vol. 129 (online version), URL: (accessed on Sep. 20, 2018).
S. Ory (1990), “Aspects religieux des textes épigraphiques du début de l’Islam,” Revue du monde musulman et de la Méditerranée, vol. 58, pp. 30-39.



(Non)-Usage of Turkish language in Islamic Inscriptions
Mehmet Tütüncü
(SOTA – Stichting Onderzoek Turkse & Arabische Wereld)


The Turkish language before Islam is initially used on stone and other materials. The Orkhun Inscriptions from Mongolia from the 7th century are the earliest samples of written Turkish. After the Turkish conversion to Islam Arabic becomes the language of epigraphy. For more than 900 years, Arabic remained nearly the only language used in Muslim epigraphy of the Turkish people. Even after Turkish dynasties were ruling the Middle East such as the Seljuqs, Mamluks and Safavids, their mother tongue remained absent in Islamic epigraphy. The first Turkish inscription that has been recently found and published is from the year AD 13691, but the use of Turkish remained exceptional and sporadic. Only with the Ottomans after Sultan Suleyman did Turkish became more in common use. The reason for the delay of the usage of Turkish language is not very well known and has been rarely researched. In my contribution I will give the reasons for this phenomenon.



Between the artist and the patron: Painted inscriptions of the Khamsa of Shah Tahmasp
Selin Unluonen
(Yale University)
Inscribed names of patrons—whether found in frontispieces or incorporated into paintings—have long been an indispensable component of our understanding of Islamic manuscripts. A sixteenth-century copy of Nizami’s Khamsa that was prepared for Shah Tahmasp is no exception: the painting from this manuscript that names the work’s patron in an architectural inscription in Arabic is reproduced in virtually every modern study and survey of the period. However, to the detriment of our understanding of the overall artistic agenda of this Khamsa, less attention has been paid to the other painted inscriptions of the manuscript’s paintings, which incorporates Persian writing into the miniatures in a myriad of ways—as architectural epigraphs, as graffiti, as throne decorations, or as carpet inscriptions. In this study, I analyze these painted inscriptions, some of which have not been previously identified, with a special focus on the Khusraw and Shirin cycle of the Khamsa in particular, and in conjunction with other painted poetic inscriptions from this milieu in general. In so doing, I argue that the inscriptions performed two functions: one is to provide the sixteenth-century audience with a chance to demonstrate their literary learning in a court setting; the second is to give an opportunity to the artists to advocate for the continued patronage of such luxurious manuscripts, at a time when the future of Tahmasp’s workshop was uncertain. These findings expand our understanding of the manuscript’s illustrative program, and they indicate that the inscriptions, in addition to providing the patron with a vehicle for self-representation, create a venue for the audience and the artists to participate in the manuscript’s meaning.




Epigraphic ceramics of the early Islamic period and the role of ambiguous script
Rebecca Wrightson
(Khalili Research Centre, University of Oxford)


The ceramic record in the early Islamic period shows major shifts occurring in the use and function of pottery. One of the most noticeable changes was the overwhelming move towards glazed ceramics in a region that had historically relied on unglazed wares. Concurrent with this trend was the emergence and subsequent flourishing of script on these newly glazed ceramics, which were ‘consumed’ by people who had previously not had access to epigraphic materials on a daily basis. Script had historically been reserved for the elite, placed on metalwork, glassware, and fine textiles. Ceramics, however, were made for market in mass quantities and consumers chose to purchase glazed epigraphic wares out of the desire to own script. The first Islamic epigraphic wares were produced in Egypt, exemplified by Coptic Glazed Wares, which were further developed throughout Greater Syria into the Yellow Glaze Family. By tracing the spread of these wares, it is possible to map the continued growth and spread of epigraphy on ceramics. These early ceramics, along with their distinct glazing technology, moved eastward, first through Greater Syria, into southern Turkey, and then eastward into Iran, where script ultimately spread into the earliest types of Iranian slip-painted wares. Simultaneously, this technology spread into Iraq and southern Iran, where it developed into the white glaze associated with the Samarra horizon wares, which were then decorated with an array of epigraphic motifs with direct antecedents in the earlier Syrian ceramics. These two paths constitute two developmental routes of glazing technology and with it, the use and spread of script on ceramics. The script on these ceramics likely grew out of the tradition of inscribing finer media, particularly metalwork and glassware. However, this initial imitation soon developed into a ceramic scriptural tradition, which expanded without the necessary influence of other media. One of the most interesting aspects of these epigraphic glazed ceramics was the perpetuation of ambiguous script, which later developed into pseudo-Kufic. It may be that as the original models for these wares became more removed, so too did the legibility of the inscriptions. In these instances, it is clear that the message the script conveyed was not essential for the purpose of the vessel, nor were patrons or artists deterred from this type of decoration either by the illegibility of the text or their own illiteracy; the appearance of script was sufficient. This paper will focus on the earliest phases of the epigraphic ceramic tradition, focusing on what I have termed “ambiguous” script, from its invention in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean in the eighth century, to its flourishing in Iraq and Iran in the ninth and tenth centuries. Some of the major themes this paper will address are the cultural shifts which prompted the desire for epigraphic utilitarian tableware, the changing perceptions of ceramics in the Islamic world, and the ensuing role of pseudo-scripts.