A Persian torchstand or Mash'al

Western Iran, Late 16th to early 17th century


Provenance: From the collection of S.E. Claude Achille Clarac (1903-1999), Ambassador of France to Iran (1934-1942). "Purchased with André Godard in Tehran between 1935 and 1937."

22cm high, 10cm diameter rim, 20cm diameter base

Stock no.: A4576a

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Full Description

A Persian torchstand or Mash'al

This piece is the standard model for Safavid mashʿal, that is, “pillar-candlestick”. The base has a wide flan with inverted edge that is engraved with a vegetal border. The spreading base supports a tapering central shaft framed by two strong mouldings. The chamfered central shaft has 12 facets. The upper section has an everted rim with an S-shaped profile on the underside and a flat or slightly dished lip sloping gently inwards on the upper side. The engraving on the lip, which is believed to be of later date, reads “Owned by Abū Ṭālib.” Although their direct association is not yet certain, a cast brass bowl now stored at Kabul Museum has an engraving of a similar name, Muḥammad Abū Ṭālib, dated 1604/1605.[i]

According to Melikian-Chirvani, this torch-stand’s layout is typical of Shāh ʿAbbās’s period (r.1588-1629).[ii] The upper and lower sections are both divided into three horizontal bands, the middle ones being the epigraphic band. The lower part of the spreading foot being undecorated, and the short slanting rim of the base being engraved with a floral design. Above the epigraphic band is a band of upside-down lobed palmettes. In the upper section, there are three-petal blossom bands above and below the epigraphic band. The epigraphic bands in upper and lower sections are framed by bands of plain metal, emphasized by two narrow fillets on either side. The inscription in the upper section is divided into four sections enclosed by identical cartouches with trilobed frames, while the inscription in the lower section is framed in the same way, with the exception that between each cartouche there is a quatrefoil with pointed left and right lobes. The main area on the central shaft is decorated with a repeated encircling foliage pattern, with a zig-zag epigraphic band in the middle.

Western Iran and Khorasan was the centre for metalwork production under Shāh ʿAbbās (r.1588-1629)’s reign. This piece can be compared to a group of torch-stands from the Victoria and Albert Museum (Accession Nos: 481-1876; 44-1870; 483-1876;790-1901), which are attributed to this period. They share similar features, with engraved patterns throughout the shaft, similar choice of poetry on epigraphy bands and the strong emphasize on the architecture of form. The patterns create a strong rhythm that the earlier period has no equivalent. The inverted base can be compared to an example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession No: 91.1.554a).


Upper section:

شبی یاد دارم که چشمم نخفت

شنیدم که پروانه شمع گفت

که من عاشقم گر بسوزم است

تو را گریه و سوز باری چراست؟

I remember one night as my eyes wouldn’t close

I heard the butterfly tell the candle

I am stricken with love, if I burn’tis but right

But you why do you weep, why burn yourself out?[iii]

(Saʿadi, Chapter 3, Būstān, 13th century.)

Main shaft:

گه دل از عشق بتان گه جگرم میسوزد

عشق هر لحظه بداغ دگرم میسوزد

همچو پروانه بشمع سروکاراست مرا

که اگرپیش روم بال و پرم میسوزد

Sometimes my soul burns with love for the beautiful ones, sometimes my heart bleeds

Passion burns my heart with a new brand every moment

Like the butterfly I am looking for a candle

If I move forward I burn my wings

(Mollā Ḥeyratī Tūnī, a Khorasanian poet who spent a long time in Marv, central Khorasan, before settling in Kāshān, in Western Iran, where he died in 961/1553-1554.)

Lower section:

شبی که ماه رخت شد چراغ خلوت ما

گداخت شمع نیاورد تاب صحبت ما

دمی که از رخ چون مه نقاب بر فکنی

بود بر آمدن آفتاب دولت ما

On that night when Thy Moonface became the light of our solitude

The candle melted unable to bear our companionship

The moment Thou tearest off the mask from Thy moon-like Face

There rises the sun of our good fortune. 

(Kātebī Torshīzī, a Khorasanian poet from Torshīz who died in 838 or 839/1434-1436.

This verse also appears on three dated torch-stands: 

the Metropolitan Museum torch-stand of 986/1578-1579

the Hermitage 987/1579-1580

Musée des Arts Décoratifs 996/1587-1588.)

[i] Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, 8th-18th Centuries (London: HMSO, 1982), 268.

[ii] Melikian-Chirvani, 309.

[iii] Melikian-Chirvani, 309.


A Persian torchstand or Mash'al