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AKM668, Ruby Mounted Agate Talismanic Pendant

© The Aga Khan Museum

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AKM668, Ruby Mounted Agate Talismanic Pendant, Side

© The Aga Khan Museum

 photo.name
AKM668, Ruby Mounted Agate Talismanic Pendant

© The Aga Khan Museum

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Ruby Mounted Agate Talismanic Pendant
  • Accession Number:AKM668
  • Place:Iran
  • Dimensions:Length: 12.1 cm
  • Date:19th century
  • Materials and Technique:agate; inscribed with black inlay, and rubies in silver-gilt mount
  • This opulent, large-scale pendant has been crafted from a cut piece of agate stone. Shaped into a flat oval, the agate is surrounded by a band of rubies and set into a gilded silver mount. Its surface has been meticulously carved in miniscule ghubari or “dust” script with verses from the Qur’an and an invocation to `Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. [1] These particular verses, and the oval shape of the pendant, indicate it would have served as a talisman.

Further Reading

 

Talismans from the Islamic world appear in many forms, but typically bear Arabic text, specifically Qur’anic inscriptions, invocations to God or other saints. These inscriptions are believed to protect the wearer of such an object by serving as a medium through which divine presence can be channelled. This large-scale and opulent pendant would have been worn around the neck, and was as much a piece of valuable jewellery as it was a symbol of Muslim piety.

 

The particular verses inscribed on this pendant were selected for their powerful protective qualities. At the centre in the largest script, the shahada (“there is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger”) has been inscribed. In the diamond shape surrounding the shahada, the 99 names of God are written. These names, which are descriptions of the qualities of God, are memorized by pious Muslims, who often repeat them as a dhikr, or meditative prayer. The majority of the composition on this amulet is made up of the full 83 verses of the 36th chapter of the Qur’an, the Sura Ya Sin. This chapter is generally invoked during challenging or difficult times, such as hunger, adversity, illness, or even impending death.

 

Finally, an invocation to `Ali, known as the Nad-i `Ali is included in the triangular cartouche above the central panel which reads “Call upon Ali, sign of miracles, you will find him a help in fortuities./Every anguish  and misfortune will disappear, through your prophecy O Mohammad, through your province/O Ali O  Ali O Ali.”This particular prayer to `Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, references the Shi’a denomination of Iran’s Qajar dynasty (1779–1924).[2] This invocation can be found in hard stone talismans as early as the 15th century, as in the ring made from nephrite in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (12.224.6).[3] A comparable agate amulet inscribed with the Sura Ya Sin and the 99 names of God is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2013.170).[4]

 

Interestingly, a carnelian amulet from the Afsharid dynasty (1736–96), dated to 1748 in the collection of the Walters Art Museum, has been carved with a remarkably similar layout of text and floral rosette motifs (42.1205).[5] While the Afsharids were rivals to the Qajars and were eventually overtaken by them in 1796, an examination of these pendants illustrates the continuity of these motifs within Persia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The lapidaries and craftsmen who created the pendant in the Aga Khan Museum Collection modified a known form to produce this large-scale object suited to the taste of the grand Qajar dynasty.

 

— Courtney Stewart


Notes
[1] Its Inscription reads: The shahada; Qur’an chapter 36, verses 1-83; The 99 names of God; the Nad-i `Ali.
[2] Spanning nearly a century and a half, the Qajar Dynasty bridged the gap between the largely tribal society of the eighteenth century and a modern centralized rule in Tehran. The formation of the dynasty in 1779 brought an end a long period of political instability that had gripped the region since the fall of the Safavid Empire in 1722. Art produced during the Qajar period is heavily influenced by Europe, and this is especially seen in portrait painting from the era (see AKM276).  Many artists, however, continued to work in traditional and revivalist styles. The present amulet illustrates direct continuities to a type of object that can be seen in Islamic art for hundreds of years.  
[3] Ring; Iran or Central Asia; late 15th – early 16th century; Metropolitan Museum of Art; 12.224.6. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/446273.
[4] Agate Amulet; Iran; mid-18th century; Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2013.170. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/458262.
[5] Talisman; Iran; 1748; The Walters Art Museum; 42.1205  https://art.thewalters.org/detail/31176/talisman/.


References
Al-Saleh, Yasmine. “Amulets and Talismans from the Islamic World.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tali/hd_tali.htm.
Blair, Sheila. “An Amulet from Afsharid Iran,” The Journal of the Walters Art Museum 59 (2001): 85–102.
Ekhtiar, Maryam and Rachel Parikh “Power and Piety: Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield” Digital Catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017. https://metmuseum.atavist.com/powerandpiety.
Savage-Smith, Emilie. Magic and Divination in Early Islam. Aldershot: Ashgate/Variorum, 2004. ISBN: 9780860787150

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