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Conversing with the Inverse: Contextualizing the Inverse Calligraphy on the Ṭirāz of the Fatimid Era
Harmonizing the tangible and intangible, designs and their meanings, has been a key constituent of fine arts, including arts of the Islamic world. Like other arts, in Islamic art the manifestation of that harmony in its creators, methods, materials, designs, calligraphy, aesthetics, purposes, users and beholders often have religious, regional and social implications, due to which an Islamic artifact cannot be studied in isolation from the factors influencing its creation in any particular paradigm of time and space. Deriving spirit from this sensitivity towards Islamic creativity, this paper will lay emphasis on a significant aspect of Islamic art attributed to the era of the Fatimids, “the ṭirāz”. While admirably preserved, catalogued and academically analyzed from various perspectives by scholars of Islamic art, the purpose of this paper shall be to contextualize the often eschewed feature of “inverse calligraphy” observed on Fatimid ṭirāz, in the light of Fatimid philosophy. This type of arrangement of two pairs of inscriptions facing each other is typical of Fatimid textile art. Of course, the interpretations offered by this paper do not belittle the artistic beauty of single-lined inscriptions on other specimens of Fatimid ṭirāz textiles. Its focus is rather to deepen our observation and interpretation of the creative representation of parallelism in the usage of such inversed inscriptions on these particular textiles. Contemplating the nuances of Fatimid ṭirāz art from a philosophical perspective helps its observer uncover layers of profound meanings and understand its historical significance in the realm of the arts of Islamic world. For the onlookers of such ṭirāz worn by the Fatimid Imam in a grand procession or for the seekers of its sacredness, these ṭirāz textiles stand witness not only to the opulence of the resplendent Islamic art of the Fatimid era, but also to the extensive scope of its artistic appeal that goes far beyond the commonly perceived dichotomy of the secular and the sacred. For brevity, this paper shall focus on a few ṭirāz specimens from the era of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustanṣir billāh (1036 CE- 1094 CE), currently preserved in the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Art/Art History
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All Middle East
Islamic World
Mediterranean Countries
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