The inscription reads: sakht-e Fakhari Isfahan nomreh 1, 1105 (work of the earthenware potter, Isfahan, no.1, 1105). The last numbers must be a date, but the second digit has been altered either from a 2 or a 3.
This panel is a remarkable piece of carving. Worked in reverse, the design is not particularly easy to read from the face of each block, and the details are certainly missed. It is only when the image is turned into negative, as in the depiction opposite, that the real quality of the detailed drawing can be seen. Each person and each animal has a different face, full of character. Every one is involved in the scene. Even the horses are eyeing each other up!
All this is more remarkable when it is considered how it has been made. Each of the square blocks is formed of a central block of wood, with the grain running from the front to the back. The corners of the block have been built up with further pieces of wood which fill out each corner, presumably to control the possible splitting of the central panel in the course of use, and also controlling any warping that might otherwise occur. The face of this composite panel is then carved with a great precision. The way the grain runs means that the carver can obtain a cleaner line as he carves, but also that the material he wants to remove is more difficult to take out. It also ensures that the final printing surface does not wear down easily or snap off if it is knocked.
The design on this panel is far more detailed than that found on most cuerda seca tile panels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The density of design is closest to the tiles in New Julfa dating from the late Safavid period (John Carswell, New Julfa, the Armenian Churches and other buildings, Oxford, 1968). A further indication of these being the source is the stylised mounds running across the lower register, flanking the stylised stream. In the Armenian church of St. Sargis there are very dense landscapes with lobed panels across the bottom; in that case each is filled with a single floral spray which the author suggests derive ultimately from Indian cloth designs (Carswell,op.cit., pls.55 and 56).
The present blocks shed light on the manufacturing technique of cuerda seca tiles. It has always been assumed that the outlines were painted by hand, possibly from a cartoon. Here it is clearly demonstrated that a printing process was at work. It raises the question of how many other tile panels were similarly produced, particularly when it came to recreating a repetitive border pattern. If artisans are prepared to spend the huge amount of time creating a set of blocks like this for a single design, how much more will they be inclined to do so for a repeat design? The edges of the design retain waxy traces which have been tested and are consistent with wax used in the cuerda seca technique. Further details are available on request.