Name of Object:

Handkerchief/ textile fragment


Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art


Hegira 365–86 / AD 975–96

Type of object:

Handkerchief, textile

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Linen decorated with silk embroidery.


Length 40 cm, width 40 cm

Period / Dynasty:





A handkerchief square, bordered along two of its sides by a series of silk-embroidered bands of chain stitch in red, yellow, black and white. Each series of bands is composed of an outer band, embellished by two undulating branches, flanking smaller ones. Next to this decorative band, is a broader one that is composed in its turn, of three smaller bands: The two border bands are decorated with a repetitive inscription in kufic script of the owner's name: 'al-bi-Allah'. The middle band is embellished by a successive series of birds with flying leaves drifting from their necks; this band is flanked by two thin borders filled with geometric decorative motifs.
This handkerchief is attributed to the Fatimid caliph, al-'Aziz bi-Allah who ruled from AH 365–86 / AD 975–96, and who was known for his tolerant policies towards the Copts, and his patronage and encouragement of the craftsmen of the Coptic community to the point where they exerted great efforts to excel in their arts and craftsmanship. The artisans used decorative components that were influenced to a large extent by Coptic art, such as for instance the portrayal of pigeons inside roundels.
Various types of textile production flourished during the Fatimid period, and silk was used extensively in the decoration and embellishment of textiles. The Fatimid Empire enjoyed great wealth, and this was reflected in splendid appearances in various aspects of their lives, and in particular in their apparel, which included richly woven and embroidered turbans, cloaks and handkerchiefs.

View Short Description

How date and origin were established:

This piece was dated based on the band of inscription, which consists of the name of the Fatimid caliph, al-'Aziz bi-Allah (r. 365–86 / 975–96).

How Object was obtained:

This object was given as a gift to the museum in 1930, by Maurice Nahman, who was a dealer in antiquities.

How provenance was established:

This handkerchief is attributed to the Fatimid caliph, al-'Aziz bi-Allah who ruled in Egypt from AH 365–86 / AD 975–96.

Selected bibliography:

Baker, P., Islamic Textiles, London, 1995.
Hassan, Z. M., Kunuzal-Fatimiyyin [Fatimid Treasures], Beirut, 1981.
Marzuq, Muhammad Abd al-Aziz, al-Zakhrafa al-Mansuja fi al-Aqmisha [Woven Design on Fabrics], Cairo, 1942.
Rizq, 'Asim M., Marakiz al-Sina'a fi Masr al-Islamiya [Manufacturing Centres in Islamic Egypt], Cairo, 1989.
Spuhler, F., Islamic Carpets and Textiles in the Keir Collection, London, 1978.

Citation of this web page:

Muhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim "Handkerchief/ textile fragment" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019.;ISL;eg;Mus01;39;en&id=clothing_and_costume

Prepared by: Muhammad Abbas Muhammad SelimMuhammad Abbas Muhammad Selim

He graduated from the Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University in 1974 and received an MA on Abbasid Tiraz textiles from the same university in 1995. He has worked at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo since 1975. He attended a textile conservation course in Vienna while studying different collections at Austrian museums for five months. He co-authored the first catalogue of the Abegg Foundation in Bern in 1995, the catalogue of the Islamic Art Museum in Cairo and the forthcoming catalogue of the Egyptian Textile Museum. He lectured on Fatimid Art in Switzerland in 1997 and at the Ismaili Centre for Islamic Studies in London in 2003. He has classified and studied the Islamic collection at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, and is currently preparing to publish its catalogues.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: ET 71