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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Not currently on display at the V&A
On display at the National Museum of Oman

Tombstone

circa 1300-10 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Tombstone of marble, carved in Khambhat, Gujarat, circa 1300-10 and shipped to Dhofar, now in Oman, where the epitaph was re-carved circa 1311. In its altered form it was used with another, similar tombstone (V&A: A.12-1933) to mark the grave of the Rasulid governor of Dhofar, al-Malik al-Wathiq Nur al-Din Ibrahim. The marble may have been architectural salvage, as suggested by the hole on the right edge of one side and other holes in the roughly cut base, which was meant to be concealed underground. Unusually for a tombstone from this source, but like its pair, this stele is carved on both sides and around the edge, which is decorated with a formal vine-scroll motif. Both of the main faces have a tall, rectangular main section beneath an upper section in the form of a pointed arch. On one side this upper section projects slightly. Both upper sections are carved in high relief with an arch containing a hanging lamp, with half a plantain or banana plant filling the space on either side. The rest of the decoration on both sides consists of inscriptions in Arabic carved in low relief, mostly quotations from the Qur’an. The motif of a lamp hanging in an arch is more or less conventional for Khambhat tombstones of this period, and the same can be said of the layout of the inscriptions, the styles of script employed, and the calligraphic compositions (see Lambourn, Carving and Communities, and compare V&A: A.5-1932 and A.12-1933).
The inscriptions
On the side with the projecting upper section, a stack of six horizontal bands of different heights fills the centre of the main section. It contains the basmalah (“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”; line 1), the shahādah (“There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God”; line 2), and the epitaph (lines 3 to 6). A quotation from the surah Fuṣṣilat (XLI, 30-35, to وجعلناها رجوماً للشياطين) fills the outer framing band, which runs up the right side of the tombstone, along the band at the base of the upper section and down the left side. A second framing band runs up the narrower vertical band on the left side of the stone, along the horizontal band across the base of the upper section, and down the narrower band on the right side of the stone. It contains a quotation from surah al-Mulk (LXVII), from the beginning of verse 30 toالّا الذين صبروا in verse 35.
The arrangement of inscription bands on the reverse is different. A separate inscription -- a quotation from the surah al-Ḥashr (LIX, 22-3) -- frames the upper section, while a longer Arabic text runs up the right side of the stone, across the base of the upper section, beneath the hanging lamp, and down the left side of the stone; it consists of the Throne Verse from the surah al-Baqarah (II, 255), continuing to verse 27 at من الظلمات الى نوره. The two narrower vertical bands within this outer frame contain two quotations from the surah Āl 'Imrān (III), from the beginning of verse 18 to the beginning of verse 9 (ان الدين عند الله الاسلام) on the right, and verse 26 on the left. Between these is a stack of nine horizontal bands of different heights. The first two again contain the basmalah and the shahādah, while lines 3 to 9 are filled with quotations from the surahs al-Tawbah (IX, 21-22), al-Zumar (XXXIX, 74) and al-Mu'minūn (XXIII, 29), which run on from each other.
Styles of script
The main style of script employed is closely related to the expert chancery hands used in royal decrees and other official documents (compare Sheila S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, Edinburgh, 2006, fig. 9.7). This is evident from the letter forms, e.g. the base of the letter alif (independent form) has an extension to the left, and the letter hā’ (final form) is written as a flourish rather than as a closed shape, but even more so from the use of the “hanging” (ta‘līq) arrangement of the text, in which groups of letters run diagonally, from top right to bottom left, within the space allocated to the line of text.
A second style of script was used for the basmalah and the shahādah inscriptions on both sides. The letter forms in this style are very similar to those in the other inscriptions, with the addition of serifs to vertical strokes in many cases, but there is no ta‘līq stacking, as the scribe followed the horizontal base line in composing the text. The scale is larger, too: the band containing the shahādah is twice as tall as line 1, which is already taller than the rest. The vertical elements in the shahādah are therefore much taller, which is especially striking in the composition of the first phrase, “There is no god but God” (to the right in line 2). Emphasizing part of the text by creating a forest of parallel vertical strokes is a common practice in inscriptions from Khambhat and is itself reminiscent of the ṭughrā element in royal decrees, which contains the name and title of the sultan (again compare Blair, fig. 9.7).
The epitaph
The epitaph was executed in South Arabia by the same scribe and carver as the surah al-Fātiḥah on V&A: A.12-1933, with which this tombstone subsequently formed a pair. The ornamental frame that surrounds each line of text marks these carvings apart, and both inscriptions are recessed slightly compared to the rest. The likely explanation is that the original surface was chiselled away so that earlier inscriptions, probably the epitaphs of the people who originally commissioned the tombstones, could be replaced (Lambourn, Carving and Recarving).

Object details

Category
Object type
Materials and techniques
Carved marble
Brief description
Tombstone of carved marble, Khambhat, Gujarat, circa 1300-10.
Physical description
Tombstone of marble, carved in Khambhat, Gujarat, circa 1300-10 and shipped to Dhofar, now in Oman, where the epitaph was re-carved circa 1311. In its altered form it was used with another, similar tombstone (V&A: A.12-1933) to mark the grave of the Rasulid governor of Dhofar, al-Malik al-Wathiq Nur al-Din Ibrahim. The marble may have been architectural salvage, as suggested by the hole on the right edge of one side and other holes in the roughly cut base, which was meant to be concealed underground. Unusually for a tombstone from this source, but like its pair, this stele is carved on both sides and around the edge, which is decorated with a formal vine-scroll motif. Both of the main faces have a tall, rectangular main section beneath an upper section in the form of a pointed arch. On one side this upper section projects slightly. Both upper sections are carved in high relief with an arch containing a hanging lamp, with half a plantain or banana plant filling the space on either side. The rest of the decoration on both sides consists of inscriptions in Arabic carved in low relief, mostly quotations from the Qur’an. The motif of a lamp hanging in an arch is more or less conventional for Khambhat tombstones of this period, and the same can be said of the layout of the inscriptions, the styles of script employed, and the calligraphic compositions (see Lambourn, Carving and Communities, and compare V&A: A.5-1932 and A.12-1933).
The inscriptions
On the side with the projecting upper section, a stack of six horizontal bands of different heights fills the centre of the main section. It contains the basmalah (“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”; line 1), the shahādah (“There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God”; line 2), and the epitaph (lines 3 to 6). A quotation from the surah Fuṣṣilat (XLI, 30-35, to وجعلناها رجوماً للشياطين) fills the outer framing band, which runs up the right side of the tombstone, along the band at the base of the upper section and down the left side. A second framing band runs up the narrower vertical band on the left side of the stone, along the horizontal band across the base of the upper section, and down the narrower band on the right side of the stone. It contains a quotation from surah al-Mulk (LXVII), from the beginning of verse 30 toالّا الذين صبروا in verse 35.
The arrangement of inscription bands on the reverse is different. A separate inscription -- a quotation from the surah al-Ḥashr (LIX, 22-3) -- frames the upper section, while a longer Arabic text runs up the right side of the stone, across the base of the upper section, beneath the hanging lamp, and down the left side of the stone; it consists of the Throne Verse from the surah al-Baqarah (II, 255), continuing to verse 27 at من الظلمات الى نوره. The two narrower vertical bands within this outer frame contain two quotations from the surah Āl 'Imrān (III), from the beginning of verse 18 to the beginning of verse 9 (ان الدين عند الله الاسلام) on the right, and verse 26 on the left. Between these is a stack of nine horizontal bands of different heights. The first two again contain the basmalah and the shahādah, while lines 3 to 9 are filled with quotations from the surahs al-Tawbah (IX, 21-22), al-Zumar (XXXIX, 74) and al-Mu'minūn (XXIII, 29), which run on from each other.
Styles of script
The main style of script employed is closely related to the expert chancery hands used in royal decrees and other official documents (compare Sheila S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, Edinburgh, 2006, fig. 9.7). This is evident from the letter forms, e.g. the base of the letter alif (independent form) has an extension to the left, and the letter hā’ (final form) is written as a flourish rather than as a closed shape, but even more so from the use of the “hanging” (ta‘līq) arrangement of the text, in which groups of letters run diagonally, from top right to bottom left, within the space allocated to the line of text.
A second style of script was used for the basmalah and the shahādah inscriptions on both sides. The letter forms in this style are very similar to those in the other inscriptions, with the addition of serifs to vertical strokes in many cases, but there is no ta‘līq stacking, as the scribe followed the horizontal base line in composing the text. The scale is larger, too: the band containing the shahādah is twice as tall as line 1, which is already taller than the rest. The vertical elements in the shahādah are therefore much taller, which is especially striking in the composition of the first phrase, “There is no god but God” (to the right in line 2). Emphasizing part of the text by creating a forest of parallel vertical strokes is a common practice in inscriptions from Khambhat and is itself reminiscent of the ṭughrā element in royal decrees, which contains the name and title of the sultan (again compare Blair, fig. 9.7).
The epitaph
The epitaph was executed in South Arabia by the same scribe and carver as the surah al-Fātiḥah on V&A: A.12-1933, with which this tombstone subsequently formed a pair. The ornamental frame that surrounds each line of text marks these carvings apart, and both inscriptions are recessed slightly compared to the rest. The likely explanation is that the original surface was chiselled away so that earlier inscriptions, probably the epitaphs of the people who originally commissioned the tombstones, could be replaced (Lambourn, Carving and Recarving).
Dimensions
  • Height: 127cm
  • Width: 48cm
  • Depth: 9.5cm
  • Weight: 100.7kg
Marks and inscriptions
The epitaph was published by Guest (p. 408) as follows, although the reading of العشرين is uncertain: انتقل مولانا سلطان الاسلام الملك / الواثق نور الدين ابرهيم بن الملك المظفر الى رحمة / الله يوم الاربعاء العشرين من المحرم سنة احدى / عشر وسبعمائة صلى الله على محمد وآله وصحبه (It seems very likely that the area now occupied by the epitaph of al-Malik al-Wathiq Nur al-Din Ibrahim was formerly occupied by the epitaph of the person who originally commissioned the tombstone from masons in Khambhat, with a space left beneath it for the addition of the date of death (compare V&A: A.5-1932). After the tombstone arrived in Dhofar, it was re-purposed for the grave of al-Malik al-Wathiq. The original epitaph was cut away, leaving a recessed surface on which a local mason carved the governor's epitaph within a decorative frame, leaving a small part of the surface beneath it blank.)
Translation
Our lord the Sultan of Islam al-Malik al-Wathiq Nur al-Din Ibrahim son of al-Malik al-Muzaffar passed unto the mercy of God on Wednesday, 20 Muharram in the year 711 -- May God bless Muhammad and his family and his companions!
Object history
This tombstone is part of a production in Khambhat (Cambay) in Gujarat which supplied a market for Muslim grave-markers around the Indian Ocean, from East Africa to South East Asia (see Lambourn, Carving and Communities). It is a rare (and presumably more expensive) example as it was carved on both faces.
This tombstone now forms a pair with V&A: A.12-1933, being the headstone and footstone from the grave of al-Malik al-Wathiq Nur al-Din Ibrahim ibn al-Malik al-Muzaffar (d. 1311), a member of the Rasulid dynasty who was governor of the province of Dhofar from 1292 until his death. His residence was in the city of Zafar (ظفار), which gave its name to the province and which is now the archaeological site of al-Balid near the modern capital of Salalah. Nevertheless, both tombstones were almost certainly commissioned by other inhabitants of Zafar. Their identities have been lost, as their epitaphs were erased when the stones were re-purposed for the governor's grave (see Lambourn, Carving and Recarving).
This stone and V&A: A.13-1933 were acquired from Squadron Leader Aubrey R.M. Rickards of the Royal Air Force in May 1933 at the price of £40. The purchase was approved at the time by the Lords Commissioners of H.M. Treasury and the Air Ministry. Rickards (1898–1937) served in what became the Royal Air Force from 1917 to 1937; in that year he was killed with two colleagues when their plane crashed at Khor Gharim on the south coast of Oman. He had served in the Middle East from 1918, flying between the Aden Protectorate, the Gulf and Iraq, and he is recorded as active in the Dhofar region of Oman in 1929 and 1930.
Bibliographic references
  • R. Guest, ‘Zufar in the Middle Ages’ in Islamic Culture, IX, 1935, pp.403-4, illustrated as pls (B-1) and (B-2).
  • 1988, R. Smith and V. Porter, ‘The Rasulids in Dhofar in the VIIth-VIIIth/XIIIth-XIVth Centuries’ in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, CXX, no. 1, pp.26-44, especially Venetia Porter, 'Part II. Three Rasulid Tombstones from Ẓafār', pp. 32-44, illustrated as pls 1B and 2A.
  • V. Porter, ‘The Art of the Rasulids’, in Yemen. 3000 Years of At and Civilisation in Arabia Felix, 1987, pp.249-50, no. 53.
  • E. Lambourn, ‘Carving and Recarving: Three Rasulid Gravestones Revisited’ in New Arabian Studies, 2004, vol.6, pp.10-29, pl.1 and 2.
  • E. Lambourn, “Carving and communities: marble carving for Muslim patrons at Khambhāt and around the Indian Ocean rim, late thirteenth-mid-fifteenth centuries” in Ars Orientalis, vol.34, 2004, pp.99-133.
  • John Guy, "Asian Trade and Exchange Before 1600", in Encounters. The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800 , ed. Anna Jackson and Amin Jaffer, London: V&A, 2004, pp. 56-7, illustrated as fig. 6.7.
  • Johanna Puisto, "Preparation of three 14th-century gravestones for a display at the National Museum of Oman", https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/caring-for-our-collections/preparation-of-three- 14the-century-gravestones-for-a-display-at-the-national-museum-of-oman, 24 April 2017.
Collection
Accession number
A.13-1933

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Record createdJune 25, 2009
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