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 (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 the qibla wall during prayer. This mihrab is an excellent example of different design elements-calligraphy, plants, and geometry-integrated into a beautiful harmonious whole. Graduated colors and sizes contribute to its success. The dominant white glaze presents the most important verses from the Qur’an written in elegant thuluth script which frames the niche. White glaze also outlines geometric patterns and arabesque vines. Less conspicuous turquoise glaze forms secondary designs such as curving vines behind the stunning calligraphy. Curved and straight lines are juxtaposed, enhanced with additional colors of mustard-yellow and aubergine on the deep blue ground. The design is formed with individual pieces of tile in the ceramic mosaic technique. Segments are cut according to the pattern from monochrome tiles with a chisel and their edges smoothed with a file. The pieces are then arranged face down according to a pattern and covered with plaster in manageable sections to install. Since colorful ceramic mosaic decorates many old buildings in Iran, modern craftsmen have become skilled in their workmanship and ongoing maintenance. The style and design in this mihrab, which developed during the 1500s, continues to the present day. Translation of Calligraphy on the Mihrab The Qur’anic inscription around the mihrab is from the Chapter of Light (24:35): 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.
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