Dated to the first half of the eleventh century, this tombstone presents a particularly finely carved, complete example of early Persian stelae.
The arched mihrab format, though not unique to the Iranian tradition, was marked by a complexity of design that surpassed those of other regions. A tombstone dated 1014-15 in the British Museum (inv.no. 1982,0623.1) is of similar arched layout to the present example. The scrolls that terminate forming roundels at each side of the pointed arch in the British Museum example are reprised in the present example in the calligraphic drop-shaped cartouches. Further eleventh-century examples found in Yazd also show calligraphic inscriptions at either side of their arch, see, for example, those illustrated by I. Afshar in Yadegarha-yi Yazd. Anjuman-i Athar-i Melli, Tehran, 1975, pp. 1081, 1086, 1088 and 1143.
While the stylised kufic script was prevalent in contemporaneous stelae, the present example stands apart from many of those published given the remarkably preserved, crisp carving of the limestone. A notable feature of the ornamentation on this tombstone is the vine which meanders loosely, only just reaching the center of each line at its deepest point. While the eleventh-century examples mentioned above are mostly calligraphic, two twelfth-century Yazd tombstones, one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 33.118) and the second sold at Christie's London, October 2001, lot 282, each echo this shallow scroll in their outer borders.
These later examples, along with several more published by Afshar have much fuller ornamentation comprising multiple calligraphic borders and scrolling vine (Afshar, op. cit., pp. 1307-8 and 1313-15, see also in M. Ekhtiar et.al., Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011, cat. 64, pp. 104-105, and in S. R. Canby et.al., Court and Cosmos: the Great Age of the Seljuqs, New York, 2016, nos. 201, 203 and 204, pp. 304 and 306-308 and also one in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (inv.no.31.711) published in A. R. Pope and P. Ackerman, A Survey of Persian Art from Pre-Historic Times to the Present, London, 1938-1939, vol. V, pl. 520). The simple, but elegant decoration of the present tombstone perhaps foreshadows the more abundantly ornamented stelae that were to come.
Although the population in eleventh-century Iran was predominantly Sunni, the names of 'Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Husayn in the upper cartouches indicate that 'Abd al-Rahman al-Madani was a Shiite. Revered as al-Shaykh, he or his successors were able to afford a richly decorated and delicately carved tombstone, sharing stylistic features consistent with the tombstones of Yazd.