A Rare Traditional Muslim Women’s Prayer Space Wooden Partition Screen or Room Divider (Tirai) Usually Used In Mosques, Beautifully Carved With Typical Malay Motifs, Polychromed and Gilded, Probably Kelantan-Malaysia, Circa late 1800s.
Usually there are two main Malay centres, which are very famous in the use of stylized patterns of Islamic calligraphy in Art in general, the first is Kelantan and the second is Cirebon located in west Java-Indonesia.
The wooden partition screens or the room dividers (Tirai) are widely used in the Malay world and are particularly made for the Muslim woman to be used in the mosques (Masjids) and is used as a private prayer space or a sanctuary for women who are attending to pray at the masjid, basically the partition is used to separate men from women whilst praying or practicing their religious ceremonies, in other word the wooden partition allows the women to have some sort of seclusion while performing their religious beliefs.
Our rare current wooden partition or the screen divider is beautifully carved, decorated, polychromed and gilded, it mainly consist of three sections, each section is mainly divided into two parts, the lower part of each section has alternating two carved Panels with other two plain ones, the carved panels are decorated with typical various Malay floral, geometrical and the tree of life motives.
Whereas the upper part of each section is beautifully designed with the open woodwork technique.
The upper part of the central partition is beautifully carved and decorated with a stylized Nas’taliq Calligraphy which reads ( بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم) translating to In the Name of Allah (God) the Most Gracious and the Most Merciful, the whole sentence is cleverly designed in the form of a Flying Bird.
Whereas the other two stylized open woodwork on the other two partitions (the ones which are on the right and the left) are decorated with one carved piece of wood by using the Stylized Mirror Calligraphy or (The Reflective Repetitious Motifs) used in the form of the Prophet’s Mohammed Name (محمد).
The type of calligraphy used on both upper partitions is the very delicate and artistic style of the Thuluth Arabic Script.
All three inscribed parts of the partition are surrounded with almost similar roundels standing on a straight line and surrounded by two curved wooden lines, the overall upper openwork form can be interpreted by the eye of the beholder one might suggest that the shape might resemble the upper part of the human body consisting a human face (especially the word Mohamed), head, neck and two raised hands performing Dua or prayers to Allah whereas the form may also resemble a flower bud on a stem in the centre with two equal branches one on each side.
Please see the identical 19th Century wood carving from the Kelantan region in Malaysia decorated with the mirror or the reflective style script of the word Mohamed.
Also please see the other very similar 19th Century woodcarving decorated with the mirror or the reflective style script of the word Mohamed, from the Sultanate of Palembang Darussalam, from the collection of the Museum of Balaputra Dewa, Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia.
For a later partition commissioned by Paku Alam VII of Yogyakarta and was gifted to Queen Emma on the occasion of the golden jubilee of her residence in the Netherlands please see.
Royal Gifts from Indonesia, Historical Bonds With The House Orange-Nassau (1600-1938), by Rita Wassing-Visser, lot illustrated on page 102.
The height including the detachable four carved bases is 183 cm.
As indicated previously the partition or the screen divider consist of three sections, each section has two carved panels and four plain ones, the width of each section is 69 cm, the overall width of the wooden partition or the screen divider while is fully wide open is 207 cm, the depth of each section is 3 cm.
The dimensions of the detachable four carved bases of the screen: for each finial is finely carved and decorated in the form of lion paws, the width of each base is 45cm. the height is 9.5 cm, 6.3 cm is the depth.
It’s very interesting and important to notice the use of wooden nails used to assemble and put together the various parts of the overall screen, this technique was a very common practice and used in the construction of the Malay wooden homes and buildings in order to enable the reuse of these valuable works of art of carved pieces somewhere else again in the future.
All six carved wooden panels had been potentially reduced from the top this might suggest and it’s very likely that all these panels had been salvaged and recycled from another unknown structure, also there is a substantial loss to the majority of the old gilding and polychrome, which was decorating the carved panels, The metal hinges used to link the various sections are likely to be from a later date.
Old marks leftovers of removed pins and traces of some later metal pins which had been left only on the upper open part sections of the screens, probably those later pins were used to fixate some fabric pieces on those open areas in order to have more privacy and to prevent the appearance of the excluded women area in the mosque.
The United Kingdom Art Market.
1-For similar wooden carved items decorated with the Stylized Mirror Style Calligraphy or (The Reflective Repetitious Motifs) made in the form of stylized humans, animals & objects, that represents and uses the Quranic verses or the prophet’s Mohammed quotes, teachings or sayings (Hadith) by using the Arabic script in very particular Artistic way which is widely used in Kelantan, Please see the following:
Islamic Art, By Othman by Mohad. Yatim, Dewan Basha Dan Pustaka, Ministry of Education Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 1995, ISBN: 983-62-3504-3.
Please notice the wide use and the various 19th century rather beautiful examples of the mirror style calligraphy or the (reflective repetitious Inscribed Motif) from Kelantan-Malaysia, please see the various wood carvings of lots 1, 16, 87, 88 & 89 catalogued on pages 2, 14, 46, 47 & 48.
2-For other similar vegetal designs and woodcarvings decorated with Stylized Mirror Style Calligraphy or (The Reflective Repetitious Motifs from Kelantan-Malaysia,
Spirit of Wood, The Art Of Malay Woodcarving, Works by Master Carvers from Kelantan, Terengganu and Pattani, Farish A. Noor & Eddin Khoo Photographs by David Lok, Periplus, 2003, ISBN: 0-7946-0103-0.
Please see the woodcarvings catalogued on page 100 and the similar bunga tanjung pattern used in our current lot, also please the similar Lotus flower pattern found on the right hand side at the base of the second panel of the first section in comparison with the details used in the lot catalogued on page 115.
3-For other various examples of sacred carved cengal type wood work prayer screen containing verses from the Holly Quran please see, the Message & The Monsoon, Islamic Art of South east Asia, from the collection of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2005, ISBN: 983-40845-7-9.
Please see the sacred carved cengal type woodwork prayer screen containing verses from the Holly Quran lot illustrated on page 8 & 177.
Also please see the other carved woodwork decorated with inscriptions on pages 178, 179, 180-181, 183, 184, &185.
4-For another type of stylized calligraphy used on woodcarvings to create unique human, animals and object like works of art from Cirebon, west Java, please see
Crescent Moon, Islamic Art and Civilisation in South East Asia, Bulan Sabit: Seni dan Peradaban Islam di Asia Tenggara, James Bennett, Art Gallery of South Australia. Adelaide, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the Gordon Darling Foundation, 2005, ISBN:0 7308 3030 6.
Please see the two carved wooden panels from Cirebon-west java which are catalogued on page 130, one lot is part of the kraton Kasepuhan Museum, and the second carved wood talismanic panel featuring Ganesha from the collection of the Asian Civilisation Museum, Singapore.