217. A Nephrite Jade Seal of the Timurid Ruler Shahrukh

Herat, Afghanistan, first half 15th century
Size: 7.52 cm high, 3.57 × 3.59 cm base

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The seal is in the form of an elephant standing on a square base, under which ‘Shahrukh Bahadur’ is carved in angular Kufic. Shahrukh was the fourth son of Tamerlane, whom he succeeded as ruler of the Timurid Empire in 1404, until 1447. The same term ‘Bahadur’ is used in the inscription of a building known as the tomb of Shahrukh in Damqan (probably a khanqah): ‘The construction of this building was done during the reign of the Great Sultan Shahrukh Bahadur, may his kingdom be everlasting.’

Angular Kufic was popular under the Timurids, and an ideal script for crafting into squares. Such squares are familiar as counter marks on coins of the period. The inscription here is based on a grid of 17 × 17, often used. The 14th-century bronze seal of Abu Ishaq in the C.L. David Collection, Copenhagen, has a 29 × 29 grid. Both are prime numbers, and probably their indivisibility was symbolically significant. The shape of the seal and the squared script derive from Chinese prototypes, which is not surprising since Shahrukh promoted close ties with China, particularly for trade.

The report of the scientific examination by Striptwist Laboratory is available.