Funerary stele fragment
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
National Museums of Scotland (NMS)
Hegira late 4th–5th century / AD 11th century
Length 22.86 cm, width 23.50 cm
A fragment from a funerary stele, nearly square in shape, the lower portion of which is broken off. In the centre are four lines of foliated kufic script, with the remains of a fifth line below them, framed by a narrow split-palmette scroll-band. The first line of the inscription reads ‘Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim …’ (‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful…’), a standard bismillah that is normally followed by the name of the deceased and the date, although the continuation of this text has not been fully deciphered. Although orthodox Islam prohibits the marking of graves, most Islamic societies disregarded this rule, and in a Shi’ite context in particular, it was usual to mark a grave with a funerary stele.View Short Description
In Islam the marking of graves is frowned upon, but gravestone fragments like this one show that many Muslims disregarded this. Generally grave markers started with the bismillah, ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful … ’, then named the deceased and gave the date of their death.
The style of kufic script employed on this funerary stele with characteristic swan-necked ascenders, complies with Fatimid epigraphy dating to the late 4th– 5th / 11th century.
A gift from the Trustees of Surgeon Major General S. A. Lithgow of Fanhope in 1936.
This fragment displays a typical example of Fatimid epigraphy from Egypt.
Piotrovsky, M. B., and Vrieze, J., (eds.) Art of Islam: Earthly Beauty – Heavenly Art, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam 1999, p.208, cat. nos. 176–8 (for similar stele).
Ulrike Al-Khamis "Funerary stele fragment" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus03;2;en
Prepared by: Ulrike Al-KhamisUlrike Al-Khamis
Ulrike Al-Khamis is Principal Curator for the Middle East and South Asia at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. She began her academic career in Germany before completing her BA (1st class Hons) in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 1987. The same year she moved to Edinburgh, where she completed her Ph.D. thesis on “Early Islamic Bronze and Brass Ewers from the 7th to the 13th Century AD” in 1994. From 1994 to 1999 she worked as Curator of Muslim Art and Culture for Glasgow Museums and, in 1997, was one of the main instigators of the first ever Scottish Festival of Muslim Culture, SALAAM. Since 1999 she has been based at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, where she has curated several exhibitions and continues to publish aspects of the collections. In addition to her museum work she has contributed regularly to the teaching of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Edinburgh.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK3 02