Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Arts of the Islamic World
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Textiles have always played a central role in the arts of the Islamic world. Decorated primarily with floral, geometric, or figural designs, they were used in a variety of ways—cut into sumptuous clothing; transformed into rich furnishings or movable architecture; exchanged as valuable commodities; or bestowed as tokens of honor and rank. Among the more unusual types of textiles are brocaded silk–satins from Turkey. These are embellished with bold, repeat zig–zagging patterns of inscriptions that identify the textile's specific function and serve as its principal form of ornament. Woven into the satin in elegant thuluth script, the inscriptions include pious invocations such as "O conqueror," or "O generous one," the shahada (profession of faith), and verse 144 of the second sura (chapter of the Koran), al–Buqara (The Cow), which reads:
    We see the turning of thy face [for guidance] to the
    heavens, now shall we turn thee to a qibla
    [the direction of prayer in Islam] that shall please thee.
    Turn then thy face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque [Mecca].
This verse is a clear prescription for Muslim burial practices of placing the coffin in the direction of Mecca toward which Muslims pray. It affirms the textile's function as a cover for a coffin, or cenotaph—a practice that echoes the covering of the Ka`ba (the most sacred site at Mecca) with a ceremonial cloth.
Cenotaph cover
Cenotaph Cover
Turkey, 17th–18th century
189.5 x 67.3 cm
Purchase S1996.62.1–2

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