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Fernand Braudel

Dado panel with part of a poem in Persian

datation
early 12th century, probably 505 H / 1112 CE
provenance
Ghazni
area
period
materials
themes
This marble dado panel is carved in low bas-relief. The decoration is composed of, from the top, an epigraphic band with a Persian inscription, an interlaced sequence of trefoil elements set against a vegetal pattern in the central register, and a narrow band with two interlaced and rolled up scrolls. In the lowermost plain section of the dado, there are two vertical incised lines which served as location marks, a device employed in Ghazni for the correct placement of the dado panels. The composition of the interlaced sequence of trefoil elements was geometrically planned; only the small irregularities of the vegetal pattern suggest a free hand carving. All elements are carved in a flat bas-relief, overall very precisely executed, with incised details in the epigraphic band. This panel was photographed in 1957 in the ziyara Pir-i Falizvan, where it was re-employed, together with several other marble objects, in a puzzle-like fashion, to decorate the cenotaph in the centre of the building. Originally, it most probably belonged to the long dado that decorated the palace of Mas‘ud III in Ghazni (r. 1099-1115; see Nos. 3, 4 for this attribution), running along the rooms that opened onto the central courtyard, where archaeologists found forty-four panels in their original position. The palace was brought to light during the excavations by the Italian archaeological mission in the years between 1958 and 1964. It was a large building of the four eyvān type, i.e. axially arranged four halls which each have three sides closed whilst the fourth side opens into a central rectangular courtyard. The large eyvāns were interspersed with smaller rooms, with this dado running along all of them – a crucial positioning in the heart of the palace, accompanying the ceremonial passage to the throne room (set behind the eyvān on the side opposite to the entrance). It was emphasized by the polychromatic effects of the decorative pattern and the inscription, which were originally painted in blue and red and gilded, and by the eulogistic content of the inscription (see below). There are about four hundred known artefacts (complete and fragmentary) belonging to this dado, which were either brought to light during the excavation or were re-employed in modern buildings in Ghazni as in this panel. Most of these artefacts are currently preserved in storerooms of the Ghazni Museum and in the Kabul Museum; others are in the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome (following an agreement between the Afghan and Italian authorities signed in 1966); another portion is housed between the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Brooklyn Museum, and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum; the rest is in private collections. This panel is among the seventy-eight artefacts that are currently missing. (Martina Rugiadi) The epigraphic bands in the upper register of these dado slabs were part of a long inscription in Persian in foliated Kufic style. An initial study of the inscription was conducted in 1966 by A. Bombaci, who identified the text as a versified poem composed in praise of the Ghaznavid rulers. The author of the poem – probably one of the poets active in the court of the dynasty – remains unknown and there is no written copy of the text, so we can assume that it was composed specifically for the monumental building. The only portions of the poem for which it is possible to reconstruct the original sequence are those certified on 44 slabs found in situ in the palace: there we find the names of Mahmud (r. 998-1030) and his son Mas‘ud I (r. 1030-1042), celebrated for their religious and military achievements. Besides the praise of the ruling family, the poem must have included an account of the Ghaznavid campaigns in India and maybe some references to the construction of the palace and an idealized description of the building. The epigraph band of this slab (hame ‘aleman, “all doctors”) conforms in style and content to those belonging to the inscription in the court of the palace. Worthy of notice is the use of the term of Arab origin ‘alem, which defines the expert on Islamic theology; the more common internal plural term ‘ulama’ is replaced here with the Persian form ‘aleman. This substitution allows the musicality of Persian to be preserved, while respecting the length of the text to correspond to the incipit of a verse, as demonstrated by the complimentary vase-shaped graphic topped with a trefoil, visible in the right margin. The practice of interspersing the poem with Arabic terms into Persian form is attested in several other epigraphic bands bearing references to the religious sphere. These references are as frequent as to suggest that the theme of the spread and defense of orthodox Islam constituted the cornerstone of the propaganda message conveyed by the inscription, which had to immediately communicate the rank and power of its patron to the visitor entering the palace. The inscription is made in an extremely elegant variety of foliated Kufic, enriched with isolated graphic complements that help to harmonize the plenums and voids of the field, providing the overall balance of the epigraphic composition. The inscription in the palace courtyard is a unique document within the Ghaznavid epigraphic repertoire since it represents one of the earliest examples of the use of Persian in monumental epigraphy and, at the same time, a work of great literary interest due to the poetic nature of the text.

see also