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Gallery Text

On this tombstone, the inscription and decoration are ordered about a shallow recess suggesting a mihrab — the niche in the wall of a mosque that marks the direction toward Mecca. Muslims face in that direction for prayer, and in Islamic burial the body is aligned with Mecca for its final rest. The framing inscription on this tombstone is a passage from the Qurʾan about the soul’s entry into eternal life. Sometimes termed “floriated kufic,” the angular script is difficult to read: it lacks clear separation between words and is elaborated with foliate and needle-shaped finials.

This tombstone was a gift from Sir Hamilton Gibb (1895–1971), a distinguished scholar of Islamic studies who served as director of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and as University Professor, a rare title given to scholars whose work, like the gift itself, “crosses the conventional boundaries of the specialities.”

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Work Type
funerary sculpture
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Seljuk-Atabeg period
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
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Physical Descriptions

Carved limestone
46 x 26 x 4.5 cm (18 1/8 x 10 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: signed by 'Ali Ahmad Jarrad


Recorded Ownership History
Sir Hamilton A. R. Gibb, Cambridge, MA, (by 1963), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1963.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Sir Hamilton A. R. Gibb
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Label text from exhibition “Re-View,” an overview of objects drawn from the collections of Harvard Art Museums, 26 April 2008 – 1 July 2013; label text written by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art:

Tombstone of Muhammad
ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad …
Iran, Saljuq dynasty, dated A.H. Rabi I, 511 (A.D. July 1117)
Limestone; signed `Ali Ahmad al-Jarrad [or Kharrad] …
Inscribed (Arabic) Every soul shall taste of death; and we try you with evil and good for a testing; and then unto us you shall be returned. (Qur’an, 21:35)
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Sir Hamilton Gibb, 1963.18

Many faiths propagate themselves across time and distance through texts that articulate belief systems and prescribe as well as proscribe certain behaviors. By contrast, the visual arts of a given culture sometimes reveal a different picture of how a particular faith is lived and experienced by its adherents. This limestone slab and the adjacent ceramic plaque do both: The inscriptions framing the top and sides of each object replicate verses from the Qur’an, Islam’s central text, and the beautifully carved inscription in an ornamental Arabic script identifies the stone slab as a qabr, or grave marker. The turquoise plaque was probably created for a mausoleum. The various schools of Islamic jurisprudence (fikh) are unanimous in disapproving of all tomb ornamentation. As the many decorated tombstones and mausolea throughout Islamic lands demonstrate, however, this was a law sometimes honored in the breach.

Publication History

  • Stanley Ferber, ed., Islam and the Medieval West: A Loan Exhbition at the University Art Gallery April 6-May 4, 1975, University of New York (Binghamton, NY, 1975), fig. 17
  • Sheila Blair, ed., Images of Paradise In Islamic Art, exh. cat., University of Tennessee Press (Austin, TX, 1991), page 79/figure 14

Exhibition History

  • Islamic Art From the Collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 08/01/1974
  • Islamic Art and the Written Word, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 10/05/1983 - 11/27/1983
  • Geometry of the Spirit: Islamic Illumination and Calligraphy, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 04/30/1988 - 06/26/1988
  • Enter Ye the Garden: Prayer Rugs of Islam, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/26/1989 - 08/20/1989
  • Islamic Art: The Power of Pattern, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/23/1989 - 01/17/1990
  • The Here and the Hereafter: Images of Paradise in Islamic Art, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, 03/16/1991 - 05/26/1991; Asia Society Galleries, New York, 06/27/1991 - 09/06/1991; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, 09/26/1991 - 12/15/1991; University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, 01/22/1992 - 03/29/1992; Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Springfield, 04/26/1992 - 06/21/1992
  • Pattern and Purpose. Decorative Arts of Islam., Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/19/1994 - 07/03/1994
  • The Continuous Stroke of a Breath: Calligraphy from the Islamic World, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/20/2003 - 07/18/2004
  • Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/26/2008 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at