Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Fragment of Robe Attributed to Imam al-Mustansir

Tiraz – Imam al-Mustansir

What is Tiraz? It is a fabric with an inscription band added in a technique different from the ground weave. In the early Islamic period textiles were often decorated with inscriptions containing good wishes and the caliph’s name and titles, and these fabrics were made up into robes of honour worn by the caliph or bestowed by him as official gifts.

At the court in Cairo the caliph’s wardrobe and his personal tiraz items were cared for by female staff. Scented flowers from the palace garden would be used to perfume his clothes. A second palatial wardrobe catered for the general court. Complete tiraz garments and other contemporary outfits are rare, but many extant fragments indicate that these textiles were of linen or silk, often embroidered with silk, and in an array of colours. Further clues about the appearance of tiraz items and contemporary dress in general, come from Fatimid wood and ivory carvings and ceramics, which show male and female figures feasting, hunting or making music in outfits that include turbans, shawls and belted tunics, many embellished with tiraz bands.

Fragment of a tiraz textile datable to the reign of Fatimid Imam/Caliph al-Mustansir (r. 427–86 / 1036–94).

Fragment of a tiraz textile datable to the reign of Fatimid Imam/Caliph al-Mustansir (r. 427–86 / 1036–94).

Name of Object:
Fragment of a robe

Holding Museum:
Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Berlin, Germany

Museum Inventory Number:
I. 3132

Dimensions:
Height 16 cm, width 13 cm

Material(s)/Technique(s):
Cotton and silk, weft rep, woven-in text.

Date of the object:
Hegira 427–87 / AD 1036–94

Period/Dynasty
Fatimid; reign of Imam Al-Mustansir billah

Provenance:
Egypt.

Description:
This fragment shows two dark blue friezes facing each other, each featuring white kufic inscriptions surrounded by pink tendrils with white blossoms. A third frieze, composed of red rosettes with white four-petalled flowers, and framed on either side with waves of brown tendrils on a green background, sits between the two inscription friezes.

This small fragment, which originally formed part of a much larger tiraz band, was identified as having been commissioned for the Fatimid ruler Al-Mustansir billah by comparing it with a similar inscription on a nearly identical piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The kufic text in the upper frieze on the Berlin fragment reads ‘In the name of God the merciful and good. There is no God other than God. Mohammed is the envoy of God’. This represents, therefore, the message of Islam. The text in the lower frieze reads ‘…this was commissioned by the vizir, the great…’. The term tiraz was derived from the name of the workshops where the cloths with the inscriptions, the tiraz, were woven. These robes of honour were manufactured for caliphs and high-ranking nobles in the workshops of the royal court. The tiraz were given to local or foreign high-ranking persons as a reward for their services. Medieval sources referred to them as valuable objects. The majority of tiraz bands come from Egypt, as these fabrics were preserved very well in the very dry climate and, if buried, the extremely dry earth.

How object was obtained:
Obtained from the Reinhardt Collection.

How object was dated:
An inscription on a similar piece of fabric in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, into which the name of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Mustansir billah (r. 427–487 / 1036–94) is woven, places this object within the same reign.

How provenance was established:
Comparisons with other fabrics have proved that the two nearly identical fragments – the London one inscribed with the name of the Caliph al-Mustansir billah and the Berlin one – have been produced in a royal workshop in Egypt from which caliphs commissioned the creation of their cloths.

______________

Credits:

Above Text and Images reproduced with the kind permission of Museum with No Frontiers (MWNF) and the holding museum, Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany. Copyright MWNF.

Please visit the state of the art MWNF Website at  http://www.museumwnf.org/ and click on Discover Islamic Art for more images, close-ups, additional research material and bibliography of the above object as well as numerous objects and monuments from other periods of Islamic History.

Please read other articles in this website on Fatimid Objects/Monuments at MWNF:
Literary Reading: Fatimid Monument – Aqueduct in Kairouan, Tunisia; Patron Imam al-Mui’zz (the reading includes a summary of the goals and vision of MWNF)
Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Textile Fragment Attributed to Imam al-Aziz

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