FLURY, SAMUEL (b. 20 April 1874 in Isabella, Brazil; d. 24 January 1935 in Basel, Switzerland), pioneer of Islamic paleographical studies (FIGURE 1). Of Swiss origin, Flury grew up in Germany and Switzerland after his father’s early death in Brazil. He studied theology but was reluctant to become a minister. When Flury had finished his theological studies, he was given an opportunity to teach at the German School in Cairo during the years 1899-1902. This resulted in his desire to pursue teaching as a career as well as his interest in Islamic art. After returning to Basel, Flury started a new study of English and French, which were to become the subjects of his lifelong career as a high school teacher. His art historical research, for which Flury was widely respected by his colleagues both for his scholarship and his beautiful drawings, was done entirely during his spare time. Basel University honored him with a Ph.D. degree and asked him to join the faculty but Flury was unable to accept due to other commitments (Tschudi). After his death the Universitätsbibliothek in Basel received the Flury Bequest.

During his years in Cairo, Flury acquired a lifelong interest in Islamic art. Being a talented artist himself, he copied ornamental details as well as inscriptions from numerous buildings during his spare hours. On his return to Switzerland in 1902 he presented his results to Max van Berchem, who encouraged him and became one of his principal advisors. As he was not able to travel to the monuments he wrote about, except of course the ones in Egypt (which he revisited in 1911 and 1927), his research was done with the help of photographs which were provided by his colleagues. By painstakingly copying an individual alphabetical table, including ornamental details, for each inscription, he was able to identify the individual style of an inscription. Although this was an accepted epigraphical method, it was Flury who developed it to high perfection. By comparative analysis it also became possible for him to place the inscriptions into the wider context of Islamic civilization. Since he was able to develop a typology of epigraphical ornamentation, he was able to identify and date otherwise obscure inscriptions. His methodology, which focused on the paleographic as well as on the art historical details of an inscription, became known as epigraphical paleography and was styled “paléographie ornamentale” by Gaston Migeon (Grohmann, p. 58).

Although Flury was primarily interested in problems of the development of Kufic script, much of his specific research was focused on monuments in Persia. The article in which his methodology was first fully developed was on the minaret of Ḡazna (“Das Schriftband an der Türe des Mahmud von Ghazna [998-1030],” Der Islam 8, 1918, pp. 214-27). In 1925 Flury wrote on other monuments in Ḡazna which had been surveyed by André Godard (Le décor épigraphique des monuments de Ghazna,” Syria 6, 1925, pp. 61-90). His second book (Islamische Schriftbänder: Amida-Diarbekr XI. Jahrhundert. Anhang: Kairuan, Mayyâfâriqîn, Tirmidh,Basel and Paris, 1920) discussed the inscription with interlaced writing on the tower at Rādkān in Khorasan (see EPIGRAPHY iii). Flury’s major contribution to a Persian monument which was without dated inscription was his proposal to date the mosque in Nāʾīn on both paleographic as well as ornamental grounds to the 10th century. After a first important article with Henry Viollet in 1921 (“Un monument des premiers siècles de l’hégire en Perse,” Syria 2, 1921, pp. 226-34, 305-16) a second article based on new photographs made especially for Flury by Arthur Upham Pope followed in 1930 (“La Mosquée de Nâyin,” Syria 11, 1930, pp. 43-58). His research about inscriptions on works of art in numerous collections also enabled Flury to contribute an article to the prestigious enterprise of the Survey of Persian Art (“Calligraphy: B. Ornamental Kufic Inscriptions on Pottery,” II, pp. 1743-1769; figs. 599-622).

Flury’s illness and premature death unfortunately prevented him from finishing the “Atlas of Islamic Epigraphical Ornament” for which he had made numerous notes and drawings. Such an atlas was seen by him as an essential guidebook for research on art history in this field.


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

S. Blair, The Monumental Inscriptions from early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana,Leiden, 1992, p. 14.

S. Flury, Die Ornamente der Hakim- und Ashar-Moschee: Materialien zur Geschichte der älteren Kunst des Islam. Heidelberg, 1912.

Idem, “Samarra und die Ornamentik der Moschee des Ibn Tulun,” Der Islam 4, 1913, pp. 421-32.

Idem, “Die Gipsornamente des Dēr es-Sūrjānī,” Der Islam 6, 1916a, pp. 71-87.

Idem, “Noch einmal Dēr es-Sūrjānī,” Der Islam 6, 1916b, pp. 413-15.

Idem, “Islamische Ornamente in einem griechischen Psalter von ca. 1090,” Der Islam 7, 1917, pp. 155-70.

Idem, “The Kufic inscriptions of Kisimkazi Mosque, Zanzibar, 500 A.H. (A.D.1107),” JRAS, 1922, pp. 257-64.

Idem, “Une formule épigraphique de la céramique archaique de l’Islam,” Syria 5, 1924, pp. 53-66.

Idem, “Le décor épigraphique des monuments fatimides du Caire, Syria 17, 1936, pp. 365-76.

A. Grohmann, Arabische Paläographie I, Vienna, 1967, pp. 58-59, pl. 8.1.

V. A. Krachkovskaia, “In Memoriam Samuel Flury,” Ars Islamica 2, 1935, pp. 235-40.

A. U. Pope, “Obituary,” Bulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology 4, 1935, pp. 51-53.

R. Tschudi, ed., Zur Erinnerung an Samuel Flury (20. April 1874-24. Januar 1935), Basel, 1937 (with a reprint of the obituaries by Krachkovskaia and Pope and original contributions by P. Buchner, E. Kühnel, and O. Spies).

(Jens Kröger)

Originally Published: December 15, 1999

Last Updated: January 31, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. X, Fasc. 1, pp. 65-66