Typically fashioned from three pieces of cotton cloth stiffened with size (a glue-based liquid) to provide a smooth surface for scribes and illuminators to work, they were covered with the Qur’anic verses, plus the asma-al-husna (99 names of God) and the Shahadah (the profession of faith). They were worn both under armour during battle or made to protect the Muslim elite against the dangers of disease and difficult childbirth.
The earliest surviving Qur’an jama date from the middle of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). However, most are thought to be 18th, 19th or early 20th century.
The Persian or Ottoman Turkish garment offered in the October 29 Islamic & Indian Art sale at Chiswick Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) was a good example, intricately filled with text in a variety of scripts across geometric grids and decorative motifs in black, red, green, and blue. It was catalogued as 20th century although the hammer price of £18,000 – 30 times the low estimate – suggested a belief it was earlier.
Another, more typical example sold for £3300 via thesaleroom.com as part of a four-day sale at Lindsay Burns (20% buyer’s premium) in Perth on December 7-10.
Back in west London, an engraved steel shaffron – a horse’s head defence –from 16th century Ottoman Turkey or Anatolia sold for £11,000 (estimate £4000-6000). The piece was shortlisted for the Outstanding Islamic/Indian Work of Art from an Auction House during Asian Art in London. The cartouche at the top was incised with the basmala bi-smi llāhi r-ramāni r-raīmi (In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful) set against scrolling decoration reminiscent of early 16th-century Isnik pottery. It was accompanied by an invoice from 1980 attesting that the shaffron was once part of the Wladimir Rosenbaum collection of antiquities, which he sold at his gallery in Ascona, Galleria Serodine. From 1980-94 it was in a private collection in Belgium and since then it hads been in a collection in Germany.
Also doubling its mid-estimate in selling at £14,000 was a 22in (55cm) Mamluk hexagonal brass hanging lantern from the 14th or 15th century Egypt or Syria.
Panels to the doors around the base include registers of thuluth calligraphy bestowing praise on ‘His most Noble, the Honourable, the Lordly, the great Amir, the Masterly, the Possessor, the Well-served, the Learned, the Diligent, the Just, the most Excellent, the most Glorious, the most Magnificent’. A similar epigraphic inscription, analogous in both its content and calligraphic style, can be found on a 14th century brass Mamluk tray in the Palazzo Abatellis collection in Palermo. It names ‘the great Amir’ as an official of al-Malik an-Nasir, most probably Muhammad ibn Qalawun.
This was one of three sales held by the Chiswick department in October that included the second part of a single-owner offering from a European collector.
Among the most eagerly competed lots was a pair of Qajar repoussé silver ewers, decorated in the Achaemenid-revival taste with scenes inspired by Persia‘s glorious past. Each standing 13in (32cm) high, they were both signed ‘The Making of Mohammad Isma‘il Shirazi 1317AH’ (1899).
They took £10,000 against a low estimate of £800.