© The Aga Khan Museum
© The Aga Khan Museum
© The Aga Khan Museum
Click on the image to zoom
This round dish made of stone paste includes a wide range of architectural and floral designs painted in cobalt blue and outlined in black under a transparent glaze. While its blue-and-white aesthetic is indebted to Chinese porcelains, its method of manufacture and its inclusion of a number of Islamic motifs — especially the Prophet Muhammad’s two sandalprints and his double-edged sword — Fmost likely place the dish’s production to the 16th or 17th century in Safavid Iran or the Ottoman empire.
This pictorial pottery dish includes a central medallion depicting a number of buildings. Several structures are surmounted by bulbous domes and one displays long eaves. At least two minbars (pulpits) appear represented in the central medallion; a third minbar, flanked by two banners, marks the centre of the rim above. Two indecipherable Arabic inscriptions also are inserted into the central architectural decoration; these may be written in Arabic, Persian, or Ottoman Turkish. If Persian, it is not impossible that the inscriptions read: “All my secrets are from You [God] and all things [are] above me [the believer”] (va hameh raz-i man ze tu va hameh chiz bar man). Alternatively, the inscriptions may include the terms ‘arsh and zamzam; that is, God’s throne and the sacred well in Mecca, respectively.
In the central composition, arcades include representations of the Prophet Muhammad’s two sandals (na‘layn) and his double-edged sword Dhu’l-Fiqar, which was passed down to his son-in-law ‘Ali. Muhammad’s sandals, which counted among his prophetic relics, were associated with the Ashrafiyya madrasa in Damascus. Fulfilling both devotional and talismanic purposes, they were frequently represented in Ottoman paintings and ceramics as well as in architectural tile revetments. This and other tiles displaying architectural scenes (such as Mecca) and Muhammad’s sandalprints strongly suggest that the dish was produced in Ottoman Syria.
While Dhu’l-Fiqar is associated with ‘Ali and thus widely depicted in Iranian Shi‘i art, it also is a hallmark of Alevism (a branch of Shi‘i Islam that arose in 10th-century Anatolia) and Bektashism (an order closely aligned with Sufism that was originally practised in Anatolia and the Balkans). Moreover, the sword is commonly depicted in Ottoman arts, including war and ceremonial banners, in which it was used as an amuletic device thought to secure success against enemies and protection against a range of evil forces.
Taken together, the sandalprints and Dhu’l-Fiqar as represented on this dish may have functioned as stand-ins for Muhammad and ‘Ali. Besides their devotional and talismanic potential, these two motifs also may have served as geographical markers: for Muhammad, the location of his sandal relics in Damascus, and, for ‘Ali, his mausoleum in Najaf. It is therefore possible that this dish was specially commissioned by an individual as a souvenir of his or her visitation (ziyarat) to several Islamic sites and tombs located in Syria and Iraq.  That the dish includes depictions of domed structures, minbars, banners, and hanging lamps further suggests one or several religious architectural complexes. Additionally, the lavish floral scrolls and bird motifs that adorn the front and back of the dish suggest a tailor-made, luxury manufacture.
The dish’s place of production remains uncertain. On the one hand, it appears related to Chinese-inspired blue-and-white ceramics, referred to as “Kraak” wares,  which were made in Iran, particularly during the 17th century. Such imitations of Chinese porcelains were popular in Iran and exported westward at this time. On the other hand, it also may have been produced in Ottoman lands after 1516, as attested by a number of blue-and-white tiles depicting architectural and floral landscapes, today held in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo.
— Christiane Gruber
 This is not the only plate or dish that may have fulfilled a commemorative role: another large-scale enamel-painted plate made during the 13th century likewise appears to have been made as a triumphal object in memory of a battle. See Renata Holod, “Event and Memory: The Freer Gallery’s Siege Scene Plate,” Ars Orientalis 42 (2012): 194–219.
 See Yolande Crowe, “Ceramics XV. The Islamic Period, 16th-19th centuries,” Encyclopaedia Iranica.
Arlı, Belgin Demirsar. “Depictions of ‘Nalın-ı şerif’ (Holy Patten) on Ottoman Tiles,” Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Turkish Art, ed. Frédéric Hitzel. Paris: Collège de France, 2013, 273–82. ISBN: 978-9751736970
Carswell, John. “Sin in Syria,” Iran 17 (1979): 15–24.
Crow, Yolande. Persia and China: Safavid Blue and White Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum 1501-1738. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002. ISBN: 978-0953819614
Farhad, Massumeh with Serpil Bağcı. Falnama: The Book of Omens, 146–147, cat. no. 35. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. ISBN 13: 9780500515112
Golombek, Lisa. Persian Pottery in the First Global Age: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Leiden: Brill, 2014. ISBN: 978-9004260856
---. Tamerlane’s Tableware: A New Approach to Chinoiserie Ceramics of Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Iran. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 1996. ISBN: 978-1568590431
Gruber, Christiane. “A Pious Cure-All: The Ottoman Illustrated Prayer Manual in the Lilly Library,” The Islamic Manuscript Tradition: Ten Centuries of Book Arts in Indiana University Collections, ed. idem, 117–153. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.ISBN: 978-0253353771
Maury, Charlotte. “Plat à décor architectural,” Chefs d’oeuvre islamiques de l’Aga Khan Museum, ed. Sophie Makariou, 52–53, cat. no. 15. Milan and Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2007. ISBN: 978-8874394425
St. Elie, Anastase-Marie de. “Le culte rendu par les Musulmans aux sandales de Mahomet,” Anthropos 5 (1910): 363–366.
Yürekli, Zeynep. “Dhu’l-faqar and the Ottomans,” in People of the Prophet’s House: Artistic and Ritual Expressions of Shi‘i Islam, ed. Fahmida Suleman, 163–172. London: Azimuth Editions, 2015. ISBN: 978-1898592327
Zarcone, Thierry. “The Sword of ‘Alî (Zülfikar) in Alevism and Bektashism,” Journal of the History of Sufism 6 (2015): 113–128.
Note: This online resource is reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. We are committed to improving this information and will revise and update knowledge about this object as it becomes available.