Literary Reading: Fatimid Object – Textile Fragment Attributed to Imam al-Aziz

Introduction: Fatimid Egypt was famous for its luxury textile production and in particular the so-called dar al-tiraz textile workshops in Damietta, Dabiq, Tanis, Alexandria and Shata. The Persian word tiraz denotes an embroidered decorative band, attached near the edge of a fabric or a garment, that included blessings and – in the Fatimid period – the name of the ruling caliph or high-ranking patron. Each tiraz workshop had a designated manager to oversee the production, packing and transportation of the textiles, in particular those destined for the caliph himself. The status of this individual was very high; he commanded an impressive salary and was honoured with a welcoming procession and reception whenever he visited Cairo. Fatimid caliphs paid great attention to the textile industry and appointed a master of Tiraz to supervise textile affairs.

Some silk textiles were made only for the caliph, including the piece below, which bears the name of the Fatimid Imam/Caliph al-‘Aziz bi-Allah in embroidery.

A textile fragment that bears the name of Fatimid Imam al-'Aziz bi-Allah

A textile fragment that bears the name of Fatimid Imam al-'Aziz bi-Allah

Complete piece of the fragment

Complete piece of the fragment

Name of Object:
Handkerchief/textile fragment

Holding Museum:
Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, Egypt

Museum Inventory Number:
9444

Dimensions:
Length 40 cm, width 40 cm

Material(s)/Technique(s):
Linen decorated with silk embroidery.

Date of the object:
Hegira 365–86 / AD 975–96

Period/Dynasty:
Fatimid

Provenance:
Egypt.

Description:
A handkerchief square, bordered along two of its sides by a series of silk-embroidered bands of chain stitch in red, yellow, black and white. Each series of bands is composed of an outer band, embellished by two undulating branches, flanking smaller ones. Next to this decorative band, is a broader one that is composed in its turn, of three smaller bands: The two border bands are decorated with a repetitive inscription in kufic script of the owner’s name al-‘Aziz bi-Allah. The middle band is embellished by a successive series of birds with flying leaves drifting from their necks; this band is flanked by two thin borders filled with geometric decorative motifs.

This handkerchief is attributed to the Fatimid caliph, al-‘Aziz bi-Allah who ruled from AH 365–86 / AD 975–96, and who was known for his tolerant policies towards the Copts, and his patronage and encouragement of the craftsmen of the Coptic community to the point where they exerted great efforts to excel in their arts and craftsmanship. The artisans used decorative components that were influenced to a large extent by Coptic art, such as for instance the portrayal of pigeons inside roundels.

Various types of textile production flourished during the Fatimid period, and silk was used extensively in the decoration and embellishment of textiles. The Fatimid Empire enjoyed great wealth, and this was reflected in splendid appearances in various aspects of their lives, and in particular in their apparel, which included richly woven and embroidered turbans, cloaks and handkerchiefs.

How object was obtained:
This object was given as a gift to the museum in 1930, by Maurice Nahman, who was a dealer in antiquities.

How object was dated:
This piece was dated based on the band of inscription, which consists of the name of the Fatimid caliph, al-‘Aziz bi-Allah (r. 365–86 / 975–96).

How provenance was established:
This handkerchief is attributed to the Fatimid caliph, al-‘Aziz bi-Allah who ruled in Egypt from AH 365–86 / AD 975–96.

_________________________

Credits:

Above Text and Images reproduced with the kind permission of Museum with No Frontiers (MWNF) and is 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(s) 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)

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