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Tomb Cover

Artist/maker unknown, Persian

The intricately woven cartouches on this silk repeat the names of ‘Ali and his sons Hasan and Husayn—key holy figures in Shi’i Islam and family to the Prophet Muhammad. A quote from the Qur’an ("help from Allah and an imminent victory" [61:13]) and a lament ("Oh, Husayn, the martyred one") repeat in further rows of naskhi (a cursive script) lozenges. Together these texts reinforce the sanctity and heavenly favor of the Prophet’s descendants and the martyrdom of Husayn at the Battle of Karbala (commemorated by Shi’i Muslims each year during Ashura).

The silk was probably used to cover the tomb or cenotaph of a member of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736) in Iran, whose rulers practiced Shi’i Islam and traced their lineage back to the Prophet. The names of the Prophet’s descendants were woven in reverse, perhaps meant to symbolize a shared, sacred lineage legible only to the deceased.

Object Details

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