Imam `Ali

Woodblock
1875-1900
Not currently on display at the V&A

Place Of Origin

This small carved woodblock was used for printing onto cotton, for a qalamkari textile. This popular visual tradition circulated dramatic narrative scenes on large textile hangings to audiences in coffeehouses and village squares across Iran.

The image is a portrait of Imam `Ali, a sacred figure of particular significance for Shi`a Islam. The Imam is depicted kneeling, with Dhu’l-Fikar, his famous two-bladed sword, laid across his lap. His face is veiled and a flaming nimbus surrounds his head: this luminosity projects the concept of the primordial divine light (Nur Muhammadi), which was specific to the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants, and was used as divine evidence of `Ali's entitlement to leadership.

As the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, `Ali b. Abi Talib (d.661 AD) is considered by Shi`a Muslims to be the only legitimate successor to the leadership of the Muslim community. The brutal treatment meted out to `Ali and his immediate family by Sunni Islamic rivals is recalled, commemorated and mourned in Shi`a culture to this day. This memorial practice has formed the basis of strong visual and tragic narrative traditions, especially in Iran. The late 19thC saw a rise in portraiture of `Ali, and his cultic image is still used in personal devotions.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved wood
Brief Description
Woodblock for printing onto cotton, carved with seated portrait of Imam `Ali, Qajar Iran, probably 1875-1900
Physical Description
Woodblock carved with seated portrait of Imam `Ali, Qajar Iran, probably 1875-1900
Dimensions
  • Height: 15cm
Credit line
Purchased
Summary
This small carved woodblock was used for printing onto cotton, for a qalamkari textile. This popular visual tradition circulated dramatic narrative scenes on large textile hangings to audiences in coffeehouses and village squares across Iran.



The image is a portrait of Imam `Ali, a sacred figure of particular significance for Shi`a Islam. The Imam is depicted kneeling, with Dhu’l-Fikar, his famous two-bladed sword, laid across his lap. His face is veiled and a flaming nimbus surrounds his head: this luminosity projects the concept of the primordial divine light (Nur Muhammadi), which was specific to the Prophet Muhammad and his descendants, and was used as divine evidence of `Ali's entitlement to leadership.



As the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, `Ali b. Abi Talib (d.661 AD) is considered by Shi`a Muslims to be the only legitimate successor to the leadership of the Muslim community. The brutal treatment meted out to `Ali and his immediate family by Sunni Islamic rivals is recalled, commemorated and mourned in Shi`a culture to this day. This memorial practice has formed the basis of strong visual and tragic narrative traditions, especially in Iran. The late 19thC saw a rise in portraiture of `Ali, and his cultic image is still used in personal devotions.
Collection
Accession Number
ME.1-2014

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record createdDecember 12, 2013
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