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Reflections of Heaven on Earth


The first gallery in the Hermitage Rooms focuses on the abstract beauty of calligraphy as a vehicle for the Qur'an - literally the word of God, inscribed on Qur'anic manuscripts, prayer rugs and tile panels. Here we show six images of inscriptions on mosques from Iran and Afghanistan. All these photographs were taken by Robert Byron in 1933-4, as he made his way across Persia and Afghanistan on the journey immortalised in his book, The Road to Oxiana.

1. The first shows an inscription applied in painted stucco to the underside of one of the four great arches supporting the main dome of the Masjid-i-Jami, the Friday Mosque, at Ardistan in Iran. This magnificent building dates from the mid 12th century.

2. The second photograph shows the elaborate tile decoration of the exterior of the dome of the Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah at Isfahan. This mosque was built between 1603 and 1618.

3. This is a 14th century glazed tile panel from the Masjid-i-Jami at Shiraz in Iran.

4. The fourth photograph shows a panel of glazed tiles set into brick, from the drum of the dome of the Masjid-i-Shah at Meshed, which dates from the mid 15th century.

5. This magnificent stucco-work inscription decorates the mihrab, the main focus of prayer, in the Masjid-i-Jami at Isfahan. The inscription gives the date of the stucco work as 1310.

6. This stucco inscription on the mausoleum of Ghiyas-ad-Din ibn Sam in the Masjid-i-Jami at Herat in Afghanistan also dates from the 14th century, but it had been exposed to the elements for some time when Byron photographed it, and the carefully built-up layers of stucco were already in an advanced state of disintegration.

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