Name of Object:

Triptych with 'hilya-i-sherif' (noble description)


Rome, Italy

Holding Museum:

Museum of Civilisations | Museum of Oriental Art “Giuseppe Tucci”

About Museum of Civilisations | Museum of Oriental Art “Giuseppe Tucci”, Rome

Date of Object:

Hegira 12th century / AD 18th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Wood, gilded and illuminated parchment paper.


Height 95.5 cm, width (doors open) 65 cm, width (doors closed) 36 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Ottoman period




This triptych is a typical product of Ottoman religious art of the AH 12th / AD late 18th century. It is made of wood covered with a thin layer of paper painted with various motifs and consists of three parts. The central panel, the most important part, contains a hilya-i-sherif, a noble description of the physical and moral qualities of Muhammad. The two side panels contain the hilyas of the first four caliphs and the sons of Ali, Hasan and Husayn. This piece is of particular interest as, in the lower part of the central panel, there is a mention of the illuminator, who signed Halil Kamili, disciple of Mehmed Qalyunt, and the calligrapher, Mahmud son of Mustafa, pupil of Baqqal-zade Ahmed Efendi, who died in the month of Rejeb 1200. In terms of the decoration of the triptych, its three leaves are embellished with inscriptions in various different characters, such as thuluth, naskhi and ta'liq, while the actual decorative motifs used include classical shoots with stylised floral motifs in the hatayi style, and rumi motifs, arabesques dominated by palmettes. The pointed pediment of the triptych shows in its centre panoramas of Islam’s two pre-eminent sacred sites: Mecca, with the Ka'ba in the foreground, and Medina, with its mosque. Particularly notable is the small, central vase from which flowers shoot, symbolising the distribution of the charismatic virtues of the prophet. The description of the physical and moral qualities of Muhammad are part of a long literary tradition that started with Ibn Ishaq’s sira (biography of the Prophet). Triptychs such as this one were the object of real worship and veneration, relating to the magical powers that, according to the calligrapher, could be attributed to the triptych and to belief in the magical powers of the writing.

View Short Description

Triptychs were a common and important part of Ottoman religious art. This example includes the ‘noble description’ of Muhammad’s physical and moral qualities, as well as representations of Islam’s two pre-eminent holy sites: Mecca and Medina.

How date and origin were established:

From the identification of the calligrapher.

How Object was obtained:


How provenance was established:

Similar pieces are common in Turkish religious art in the 12th / late 18th century.

Selected bibliography:

Arseven, Esad C., Les Arts Décoratifs Turc, Istanbul, 1952.
Atil, E., Turkish Art of the Ottoman Period , Washington, 1973.
Gallotta, A., “Un Trittico Ottomano con hilye -i serif nel Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale di Roma”, Arte Orientale in Italia: Miscellaneous Writings of the Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale di Roma, Rome, 1973, pp.25–79.

Citation of this web page:

Paola Torre "Triptych with 'hilya-i-sherif' (noble description)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020.;ISL;it;Mus01;3;en

Prepared by: Paola TorrePaola Torre

Responsabile del Dipartimento di Archeologia e Arte Islamica e del Servizio Educativo presso il Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale “Giuseppe Tucci” di Roma.
Laureata in Arte islamica, ha svolto per anni attività di docenza presso l'Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli ed è autrice di numerose pubblicazioni e studi scientifici riguardanti soprattutto la ceramica del mondo islamico, con particolare riferimento alla produzione dipinta a lustro metallico, dalla Mesopotamia alla Spagna.

Copyedited by: Pier Paolo RacioppiPier Paolo Racioppi

Laureato e specializzato in storia dell'arte presso l'Università di Roma “La Sapienza” sta conseguendo il dottorato di ricerca in Storia e conservazione dell'oggetto d'arte e d'architettura presso l'Università di Roma TRE. Ha svolto attività seminariali presso l'Istituto di Storia dell'Arte all'Università La Sapienza di Roma e attualmente è docente di storia dell'arte del Rinascimento presso la IES at Luiss (Roma).
Ha pubblicato diversi contributi sulla tutela artistica, il collezionismo e le accademie d'arte, ed ha collaborato al Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani dell'Enciclopedia Treccani.

Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: IT 03


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