Mirror Image of 'Ali wali Allah


This 18th-century Ottoman levha (calligraphic panel) depicts the Shi'a phrase “'Ali is the vicegerent of God” in obverse and reverse, creating an exact mirror image. The calligrapher used the central vertical fold in the thick cream-colored paper to trace the exact calligraphic duplication prior to mounting it on cardboard and pasting rectangular pink frames along its borders. Mirror writing flourished during the early modern period, but its origins may stretch as far back as pre-Islamic mirror-image rock inscriptions in the Hijaz, the western strip of the Arabian Peninsula. Engraving in reverse for the manufacture of coins and seals also was mastered at an early date. Mirror writing and mirror-image making flourished in the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular in mystical quarters associated with the Bektashi order. The Bektashis created calligraphic panels and paintings reflective of their tenets, which included belief in the divinity of 'Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. As suggested by this panel, God and 'Ali are not dissociable. The panel probably was hung on a wall in a Bektashi dervish’s living quarters, mosque, or dervish lodge. This specimen includes the artist’s holograph seal, a square impression overlapping the central vertical crease, bearing the name of Mahmud Ibrahim, whose work appears in another levha bearing the dates A.H. 1134 (A.D. 1721–2) and 1141 (1728), suggesting that this panel, by the same artist, probably dates from around 1720–30.

Last updated: April 12, 2016