early 1600s or later
Mihrab: 290.7 x 245.3 cm (114 7/16 x 96 9/16 in.); Frieze: 69.2 x 1563.5 cm (27 1/4 x 615 9/16 in.)
Gift of Katharine Holden Thayer 1962.23
The prayer niche (or mihrab in Arabic) is the focal point in the interior of a mosque. It is located in the qibla wall, which is oriented toward Mecca, the holy city of Islam. Muslims face such a wall when in prayer. An inscription frieze is sometimes located across the top of a qibla wall.
Verses from the holy Koran, written in elegant thuluth letters, decorate this mihrab and frieze in contrasting curved and straight designs. The most important elements are rendered with the dominant white glaze; secondary designs are formed with less visually prominent turquoise glaze, such as the continuous arabesque vine behind the Koranic text.
The inscription around the mihrab is from the Chapter of Light (24:35-36) in the Koran: "God is the light of the Heavens and the Earth. His Light is like a niche in which is a lamp-the lamp enclosed in glass-the glass, as it were, a glistening star. From a blessed tree it is lighted, the olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would well neigh shine out, even though fire touched it not! It is light upon light. God guideth whom He will to His light, and God setteth forth parables to men, for God knoweth."
The artistic and calligraphic styles suggest this mihrab and the inscription frieze were made about 1500, but the physical appearance of the ceramic mosaic piece does not. The glaze colors are too consistent, and they have not discolored from moisture seeping behind the cut tile edges. Clay substrates of the ties were tested in 2001 using thermoluminescence to determine the date the tiles were fired. The results showed that the tiles were fired within the last 60 years. Therefore, the mihrab and frieze were modern, made between 1941 and 1961, just before the museum acquired them in 1962.
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