The inscriptions are as follows:
In the side panel: 'God, The Praised, The Exalted said' followed by Qur'an II sura al-baqara, parts of v.255.
In the small cartouches: call to God to bless Muhammad and the Twelve Imams.
In seal kufic: the shahada
In the end panels: hadhihi rawda al-sharifa al-mu'azzama al-mukarrama al-marhuma dawlat/bint al-amir al-a'zam amir 'ali shir khazin fi shuhur sana 859 (This is the noble tomb of the respectable, the honoured, deceased Dawlat, daughter of the greatest Amir 'Ali Shir the treasurer in the course of the year 899 (1493-94)).
The cenotaph is carved in a style developed in Herat under Timurid patronage in the second half of the fifteenth century. The finest examples carved in black stone are to be found among the ruins of the madrasa of Sultan Husayn Baiqara which was built in 1492-1493 AD (Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom, The Art and Architecture of Islam, New Haven and London, 1994, p. 51, fig. 66). Also in this group are a cenotaph in the Isabella Gardner Museum, Boston (Thomas W. Lentz and Glenn D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, Los Angeles, 1989, p. 201, fig. 70) and another in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. A further example in the name of Abu'l Ghazi Sultan Sa'id, dated AH 937-940/1530-33 AD, is split between the Louvre Museum and the Museum of Art and History of Uzbekistan (Thérèse Bittar, Pierres et stucs épigraphiés, Paris, 2003, no.65, pp.169-171). Characteristic of all is the style of floral decoration which was also adopted by the wood carvers and was ultimately derived from manuscript decoration designed by the kitabkhana. This consists of symmetrical scrolls with flowers, such as peonies, lotuses and chrysanthemums, rendered in relief in minute detail with arcades or cartouches outlined in a slightly higher plane.
The cenotaph in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (reg. no. 973-1901) is dated AH 942/1536 AD and is, in form and decoration, close to ours. It has a similar decorative composition on the top including a square cartouche with an inscription in floriated kufic "Wisdom belongs to God". The long sides are entirely decorated with floral scrolls and one of the end sides is inscribed with the date in thuluth. The other has three blank spaces which would have contained the name of the deceased suggesting that the cenotaph was unfinished or vandalised. It comes from the tomb of Buyan Quli Khan in Bukhara.
It is tempting to speculate on the identity of the person for whom this splendid sarcophagus was carved. While nobody of that name appears to be recorded, the name of the father, Amir 'Ali Shir, could possibly refer to Amir 'Ali Shir Nawa'i who was chief minister of Sultan Husayn Baiqara and who died in AH 906/1501 AD (see lot 339). The extraordinary quality of the carving on this cenotaph indicates it would have had to be somebody at that level within the court who had commissioned it.