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Ilkhanid Iran

The DDFIA’s collection of Ilkhanid tilework represents major trends in secular and religious architectural decoration from the 1260s through the first few decades of the fourteenth century and covers a wide range of techniques from underglaze-painted molded production to overglaze-painted luster and lajvardina. A strength of this sub-collection is tilework created for imamzadehs. The following examples in this category are on view in (or near) the Mihrab Room at Shangri La: the renowned mihrab signed ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir, dated Sha‘ban 663/May 1265, and from the shrine of Imamzada Yahya at Veramin (48.327); additional star and cross tiles from the same shrine (48.361); and a tripartite panel dated Rabi II 713/July 1313 and made to cover the tomb of the daughter of Imam Ja‘far (48.348). In the future, it may be possible to add a fourth ensemble to this category: a set of 10 inscription frieze tiles (48.347) from an as yet unidentified building but likely dateable to 710/1310 (Porter 2010).

The Veramin mihrab and set of 10 tiles are further remarkable for they represent two generations of production by Iran’s most notable family of Shi‘ite potters, the Abi Tahir family of Kashan. A few luster bowls can be ascribed to the progenitor, Abu Tahir; his son, Muhammad, contributed tilework to the shrine of Fatima in Qum and that of Imam Riza in Mashhad. For such projects, Muhammad collaborated with another well-known Shi‘ite potter, Abu Zayd (active c. 1180–1220, as confirmed by a number of signed and dated mina’i and luster vessels, see example, as well as tilework) (Blair 2008). In many respects, the third generation potter, ‘Ali ibn Muhammad, continued in his father’s footsteps. He contributed additional elements to the Qum shrine, and for Mashhad, he produced the mihrab dated 640/1242 (Blair 2011). Over 20 years later, he signed and dated the much larger Veramin mihrab now in the DDFIA collection. Approximately five decades later, ‘Ali ibn Muhammad’s son Yusuf—part of the fourth generation—signed the final tile in the DDFIA’s set of 10 frieze tiles attributed to c. 1310.

At least three distinct groups of Ilkhanid tilework in the DDFIA collection can be associated with palatial sites; specifically, the summer palace of Takht-i Suleyman in northwestern Iran, which was built for the ruler Abakha (r. 1265–82). The most notable ensemble consists of variously-shaped exterior tiles that were left unglazed and/or were underglaze-painted in hardier glazes. At Shangri La, over 200 individual tiles constitute a tripartite “stepped” arrangement on the northern façade of the central courtyard (48.100a–c). The outer sides of the ensemble consist of an unglazed interlace pattern emanating from eight-pointed molded stars in turquoise and cobalt blue. The central rectangular portion features similar strapwork radiating from eight-pointed stars but with additional glazed components. Comparable tiles were excavated at Takht-i Suleyman by the German Archaeological Institute between 1959 and 1978 (Carboni and Komaroff 2002; Masuya 2005). When Doris Duke purchased the ensemble from Ayoub Rabenou while in Iran in 1938, it was said to have been excavated at Saveh, located southwest of Tehran. For the moment, the panel’s exact provenance remains unclear.

The second Takht-i Suleyman grouping includes a pair of square luster tiles of the type that would have formed a horizontal frieze along the top of the interior dado (48.346.1–2). Like most frieze tiles, the molded portion at the top projects slightly from the surface below. The design in the main field includes an arch enclosing Persian verses from the preface of the Shahnama (Porter 2010). The calligraphy is rendered in cobalt blue and stands apart from the arch outlined in turquoise, while the spandrels above feature arabesque patterns terminating in animal heads. Over 40 such tiles are known, but they probably once constituted a dozen distinct friezes (Carboni and Komaroff 2002; Porter 2010). The DDFIA pair can be linked to an ensemble consisting of 28 known tiles (Porter 2010).

The third grouping associated with Takht-i Suleyman includes two molded hexagonal tiles (48.405 and 48.397) of a type known to have been excavated from the site. Both depict a recumbent deer; the first is underglaze-painted in turquoise, while the second is executed in the more complicated overglaze technique of lajvardina (original red enamel and gilding remain intact). In their original contexts, these hexagonal tiles would have likely been interspersed with double pentagonal tiles and perhaps grouped with other hexagonal examples depicting phoenixes and dragons (Carboni and Komaroff 2002).

The DDFIA collection includes a corpus of approximately 100 star tiles of the type that would have covered the interior dados of Ilkhanid buildings. The vast majority are eight-pointed luster examples that would have been interspersed with underglaze-painted crosses. These tiles measure between 18 and 21 cm and feature a central field with figures, animals, and/or floral patterns and a perimeter inscription band with Arabic or Persian verses (often Qur’anic or from the Shahnama). Highlights include one with a pair of finely drawn facing figures (48.293); one with floral motifs and the first six distiches (couplets) of the Shahnama (Porter 2010; 48.240); one with four large arabesques and Qur’anic verses (48.279); one dated Ramadan 663/July 1265 and exclusively painted in luster (48.284); one with a molded phoenix in flight (48.295); and one featuring a figure with Mongol headgear enclosed by a circle and a perimeter border of geometric forms in blue (rather than the standard inscription) (48.296). In addition to these luster examples, several additional star tiles deserve mention: a twelve-pointed, monochrome-glazed, molded example with a phoenix in flight (48.110), and an eight-pointed, lajvardina example with a smaller phoenix (48.404).

A summary comparison of Duke’s acquisition of portable pre-Mongol vessels and Mongol tilework illustrates the importance of timing and availability in the formation of Islamic art collections. Almost as soon as she began collecting, Duke became interested in the ceramic arts of Iran’s pre-Mongol period. Her attention first focused on overglaze Seljuk vessels of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, predominantly mina’i, but also luster. Mina’i was widely available through New York and Tehran-based dealers, and between 1937–1939, Duke acquired at least seven examples with the standard figural designs of rulers enthroned, princes on horseback (48.331), confronted figures and signs of the zodiac. In terms of quality, these vessels were predominantly mid-range, and some had suffered from extensive restoration. Many were symptomatic of wider trends in the marketing of ostensibly authentic whole vessels, rather than fragments, and were likely “created” in Tehran and Paris workshops during the 1920s and 1930s (48.338). Although some museums and collectors would acquire exceptional examples of mina’i during the early twentieth century, larger numbers of fine examples began to surface publicly in the United States from the 1940s onwards. This particular trend occurred after a series of important exhibitions and publications increased awareness of the problematic medium and hence raised the bar in terms of quality (Overton 2012).

Duke’s fortunes with medieval Persian ceramic arts changed dramatically in 1940. That year, a number of fine examples of Ilkhanid tilework were included in Arthur Upham Pope’s (1881–1969) New York exhibition “Six Thousand Years of Persian Art” (Ackerman 1940). Among the best pieces were the above-mentioned Veramin mihrab, tomb cover, and set of 10 frieze tiles. With the aid of Mary Crane, a graduate student in Persian art at New York University, Duke succeeded in purchasing these three important sets of tilework from Hagop Kevorkian (1872–1962). Regarding the mihrab, the dealer would later write to Duke, “My innermost feeling in this respect is, not only good will, but deep satisfaction in the realization that I have transferred the title of this unique monument which I cherished, to one so worthy... I am now confident that the Mihrab is to be set up in a sympathetic atmosphere and shall be preserved for the benefit of posterity under your wise and appreciative direction.” A few years later at auction, Duke purchased the two frieze tiles with Shahnama verses, which nicely complemented the ensemble of 200-plus exterior tiles of the type associated with Takht-i Suleyman but said to have been excavated at Saveh.

Despite the fact that she acquired her best examples of Ilkhanid tilework in the first decade of her collecting, Duke’s interest in Ilkhanid tilework lasted a lifetime. In 1984, she purchased a broken luster star tile with fine drawing of a dancing figure (48.401), the hexagonal turquoise deer example described above, and her final Veramin star tile (48.387). In 1989, just four years before her death, she purchased the above-mentioned lajvardina star with phoenix.

 

Signature tile from a set of 10 frieze tiles (48.347), signed Yusuf ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir, attributed to c. 1310. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

Signature tile from a set of 10 frieze tiles (48.347), signed Yusuf ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir, attributed to c. 1310. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

Molded tiles (48.100a–c) associated with the summer palace of Takht-i Suleyman, Iran, c. 1270s, on view in Shangri La's central courtyard. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Molded tiles (48.100a–c) associated with the summer palace of Takht-i Suleyman, Iran, c. 1270s, on view in Shangri La's central courtyard. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Ilkhanid star and cross tiles line the doorway between the Mihrab Room and the living room. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Ilkhanid star and cross tiles line the doorway between the Mihrab Room and the living room. (Photo: Tim Street-Porter, 2011.)

Recommended Citation expand icon

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (Overton), “Tilework: Ilkhanid Iran,” Collection Highlights, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, November 2012, www.shangrilahawaii.org.

Works Cited expand icon

Phyllis Ackerman, Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art (New York: The Iranian Institute, 1940).

Sheila Blair, "Ali b. Muhammad's mihrab and its mates," Color Cladding: Islamic Tiles from the Doris Duke Collection, Symposium, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, March 2011.

Sheila Blair, “A Brief Biography of Abu Zayd,” Muqarnas 25 (2008), 155–76.

Stefano Carboni and Linda Komaroff, eds., The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art2002).

Tomoko Masuya, Scholar-in-Residence report, 2005, internal DDFIA document.

Yves Porter, Scholar-in-Residence report, 2010, internal DDFIA document.

Further Reading and Resources expand icon

Online:

Keelan Overton, “Doris Duke, Arthur Upham Pope, and Collecting Persian Art in the Early Twentieth Century,” Collecting Byzantine and Islamic Art: A Scholars’ Day Workshop, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 2012.

Suzan Yalman, “The Art of the Ilkhanid Period, 1256–1353,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.

Stefano Carboni, “Takht-i Sulayman and Tile Work in the Ilkhanid Period,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011.

Color Cladding: Islamic Tiles from the Doris Duke Collection, Symposium, Shangri La: A Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures, March 2011.

Comparanda in other collections:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/140001625?rpp=20&pg=1&ft=star+tile&pos=4
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/140007734?rpp=60&pg=1&ft=*&where=Kashan&pos=35

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O209691/tile-unknown/
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O89590/tile-panel-ali-ibn-muhammad/

British Museum, London

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=236487&partid=1
http://tinyurl.com/bqvcm8v

Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

http://art.thewalters.org/detail/35852/lusterware-star-shaped-tile/

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=133128;type=101

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/cross-shaped-tile-from-the-shrine-of-imamzadeh-yahyah-veramin-336070

Print:

Oliver Watson, Persian Lustre Ware (London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985).

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