Medieval Middle East and North Africa

Medieval Middle East and North Africa

This illustration shows an example of an Egyptian appliqué Mamluk emblem that dates to the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. Such emblems were used to show a man’s rank within the bureaucracy of the Mamluk empire. The emblem is made out of a yellow woven cloth with appliquéd mid-blue and light blue, red and white woollen cloth. Each of the devices is outlined in a couched, cotton cord.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam houses a medieval Egyptian textile fragment with embroidered decoration. The ground material is linen, the embroidery is carried out in silk, with pulled thread work, double running stitch and satin stitch. The fragment dates to the late medieval, Mamluk period. It measures 28 x 10 cm.

Illustrated here is an example of a leather Mamluk emblem that dates to the fifteenth century or slightly earlier. This particular example takes the form of a triple field shield with devices in the form of a diamond and two chalices.

The medieval Mamluk rulers (1250-1517) of Egypt developed a system of emblems to signify and identify the role of courtiers serving under the various sultans. Some of the emblems are very simple, others are complex. They were used to decorate a variety of different materials, such as glass, metal, paintings, stone, stucco, as well as textiles (appliqué, embroidered, woven forms).

The Marwan Tiraz is one of the oldest known, embroidered tiraz textiles. It carries the name of the Umayyad caliph, Marwan. It is a compound twill weave (samit), woven in red silk with a broad border that incorporates three stripes running right across the cloth.

The Newberry Collection of Islamic Embroideries forms part of a much larger group of medieval textiles that were collected in Egypt in the early twentieth century by the Egyptologist, Percy E. Newberry. The textiles were donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1941.

The Qadisha Valley embroideries were discovered in 1991 by a team of speleologists working in the Qadisha Valley in northern Lebanon. While exploring the Asi-i-Hadath cave complex, they found a series of burials, which included four infants and three adults, skeletal remains of a foetus and one male skull.

The archaeological site of Qasr Ibrim lies on a bluff overlooking the Nile, Upper Egypt, where it almost never rains, and so high above the river that it was never flooded. This allowed the organic remains to be almost totally preserved. The site was occupied for nearly 3000 years, until the ruling authorities officially ordered its abandonment in 1812.

Between AD 872-1072, the Mediterranean island of Sicily was controlled by Muslim rulers, and this domination led to a long period of Arab/Muslim influence on local artistic production. It was a period in which many buildings were erected and the capital of Palermo became famous for its academic and religious institutions.

Tiraz is a term related to a medieval Middle Eastern textile that carries an inscription of some kind. The term tiraz probably derives from a Persian word for embroidery (compare tarazidan, 'to embroider'). The term tiraz is in particular used to indicate an embroidered, woven, painted, printed, or applied text on a piece of textile.