THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

6 posts from June 2016

27 June 2016

Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah (IO Islamic 3214)

While recently looking for documentation on the Library of Tipu Sultan, Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782-1799), my eye fell on this entry in Charles Stewart's Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (Cambridge, 1809), pp. 72-3:

XCIV. Diwāni Sindbād Hakīm. Thick quarto, common hand, ornamented with pictures, &c. The instructions of the philosopher Sindbād to his pupil, the ignorant son of a king; in a series of interesting and facetious stories. The author is unknown; but it is dedicated to Shāh Mahmūd Bahmeny of the Dekhan, A.D. 1374.

IO 3214_f18v
The philosopher Sindbad promises the king to teach his son (BL IO Islamic 3214, fol. 18v)
 noc

Immediately I was reminded of the Sindbādnāmah about which I had written in an earlier blog (The Story of Sinbad or the Seven Sages). Circumstantial evidence had given this manuscript an origin in South India, probably Golconda, between 1575 and 1585 (Weinstein, p. 127), but how it arrived in the East India Company Library remained a mystery.

Thanks to the manuscript being digitised, I was immediately able to look for mention of a date of composition and found the year 776 (1374/5) of Stewart's description mentioned in the introduction on folio 8v  — although the patron was definitely Persian (tāj bakhsh-i ʻajam) rather than Bahmanid. I then had the good fortune to discover that a volume in the India Office Records and Private Papers described as Tipu Sultan papers (Mss Eur E 196) included copies of lists of books allocated by the Prize Agents to the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the East India Company Library. Sure enough, not only was the volume mentioned in a list of manuscripts designated for the East India Company Library in 1799, but it also occurred in a list of books due to be despatched from Calcutta in February 1807.

F70r
Above: List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. the Court of Directors, submitted by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam in December 1799
Below: “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad, the Poetical works of Hakeem Sindbad, with Paintings” (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff.70r and 74v)
 noc
74v

Although 197 volumes of Arabic and Persian manuscripts were deposited in the Library on 16 July 1806 (Library Day Book for 1806), it wasn't until 1807 (204 vols) and April 1808 (68 vols) that the full allocation was received. Of almost 2000 volumes of the original library, the East India Company received an estimated total of 469 while the rest were divided between the Asiatic Society and the College of Fort William, Calcutta.

IO3214binding
Binding of IO Islamic 3214 labelled “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad”
 noc

F90r

Above: Packed ready for despatch, a List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted, included in a letter from Wm. Hunter, Secy. to College Council, Fort William, dated 17 February 1807, to Thomas Brown, Chief Secy. to Government
Below: Details of manuscripts sent (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff 90r and 91r)
 noc
91r


Folio 1r of the Sindbādnāmah contains several abraded seals. One is the East India Library stamp which was deliberately effaced when the book was stolen from the library (see my earlier post). Jerry Losty (Art of the Book,  p.71) and Laura Weinstein (Variations on a Persian theme, p. 127) had already suggested that at least one of the others might be a seal of the Qutbshahi dynasty. Examination using sophisticated filters at RetroReveal.com and comparison with other Qutbshahi seals show that it is likely to be the seal of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, and is probably dated 1012 (1603/4). The fact that many of Tipu Sultan's manuscripts had belonged previously to the Qutbshahi dynasty only serves to strengthen this connection.

Io_islamic_3214_f001r
Folio 1r showing the abraded Qutbshahi seals (BL IO Islamic 3214, f. 1r)
 noc

IO Isl 550_DIvan-i Ahli Shirazi
Above: Seals of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, from another Tipu manuscript (BL IO Islamic 550)
Below: Seal of IO Islamic 3214 viewed with help from RetroReveal, revealing the letters مهر ز on the lower right side

RetroRevealseal

This research has resulted in some exciting discoveries of new source material on the royal library at Seringapatam. I'll be posting the results during the next few months as we digitise selected manuscripts from Tipu Sultan's collection.

Further reading
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809
Laura S. Weinstein, Variations on a Persian theme: adaptation and innovation in early manuscripts from Golconda. PhD diss., Columbia University, 2011
Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India, London, 1982
Mss Eur/E196, ff.70-82: Copy of List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. The Court of Directors, dated 1 & 28 December 1799, signed by D. Price, S.W. Ogg
Mss Eur/E196, ff 90-94: List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted. Signed W. Hunter, Secy. C.C.
Mss Eur/F303/1: Library Day Book 1801-1814

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

 


The story of Sinbad or the seven sages
Tipu Sultan’s dream book (IO Islamic 3563)

21 June 2016

A Mughal Shahnamah

In a recent post I wrote about some of our loans to the exhibition The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination in Delhi. These included our Mughal illustrated Shāhnāmah (Add.5600). A direct benefit of participating in exhibitions such as this is that we have now been able to digitise it and make it available on our website.

Add_5600_f139v
The heroes Gīv and Pīrān bring Kay Khusraw from Turan to Iran to be crowned king. Artist: Shamāl (British Library Add.5600. f. 139v)  noc

This copy of the Shāhnāmah is thought to date originally from the 15th century. Unfortunately it has no colophon but it was extensively refurbished in India at the beginning of the 17th century when the 90 illustrations were added. These are numbered consecutively 1-91, only lacking no. 37 which, together with a gap of about 150 verses, is missing at the beginning of the story of Bīzhan and Manīzhah between folios 201v and 202r. The manuscript was altered again in the first half of the 18th century when elaborate paper guards and markers were added. The magnificent decorated binding, however, dates from the early 17th century.

Add_5600_f320v
Rustam, glass in hand, prepares to eat a wild ass alfresco while Bahman contemplates killing him with a giant boulder. Artist: Banvārī (British Library Add.5600, f. 320v)  noc

In his Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: 263-73, John Seyller expands Jerry Losty's view (Art of the Book: 122-3) that the paintings were added for the great statesman and patron ʻAbd al-Raḥīm Khān Khānān (1556-1627). The artists Qāsim and Kamāl are known to have worked for him and one of the paintings, ascribed to the artist Shamāl (f. 274r), is dated 1025 (1616/17) which places the Shāhnāmah in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's studio at that time. The volume, Seyller suggests, was probably incomplete when ʻAbd al-Raḥīm acquired it. Thirty-five of the paintings were added directly to blank painting areas, leaving four completely empty (for example f. 446v). Some folios were replacements for missing ones. The remaining 55 original illustrations were covered with paper which was then painted over. Occasionally the original painting is visible from the other side, as in folio 338 illustrated below, or round the edges of the new paintings.

Add5600_f338_repainting
Right:  folio 338v showing the dying Rustam, impaled in a pit of spears, shooting Shaghad through the tree trunk. Left:  folio 338r, the other side of the same leaf showing visible traces of over-painted branches of a tree (British Library Add.5600, f. 338)  noc

Add5600_f257r_reworking Add5600_f189r_reworking
Left: folio 257r and right: folio 189r,  examples of original paintings showing round the edges

The artists of the Shāhnāmah
The 90 paintings are the work of seven named artists listed below. Follow the hyperlinks to go directly to the digital image. Details of the individual illustrations are available here.

Banvārī 26, (ff. 32v, 65v, 84v, 107v, 128r, 130r, 134r, 154v, 178r, 200v, 234v, 295r, 304v, 314v, 320v, 325v, 333r, 343v, 344v, 357r, 437r, 452v, 488v, 525r, 555v, 562v)

Bhagvatī 3 (ff. 28r, 68v, 338v)

Būlā 1 (f. 24v)

Kamāl 11, (ff. 54r, 88r, 156v, 211v, 264v, 346v, 353r, 361v, 464v, 551v, 578v)

Mādhū 1 (f. 12v)

Qāsim 25 (ff. 37r, 42v, 64r, 75v, 78v, 99r, 142v, 147v, 182v, 222v, 236v, 269v, 280v, 285r, 288v, 310v, 350r, 372r, 399v, 404v, 408v, 477v, 483v, 548r, 573v)

Shamāl 21 (ff. 18v, 51r, 116v, 139v, 169v, 176r, 180v, 183v, 189r, 197v, 244v, 250r, 257r, 274r, 277v, 364v, 385v, 411v, 419v, 506r, 538v)

Unattributed or erased 2 (ff. 387v, 402v)


An illustrious past
Lack of  ʻAbd al-Raḥīm's name in Add.5600 means we can only deduce his connection from other evidence, but luckily we have a bit more concrete information about what happened after it left his studio. The details, however, are far from certain and allow plenty of scope for future research!

The first piece of tangible evidence occurs in inscription A below, which records that the manuscript was given in 1625 to Muʻtaqid Khān who had been awarded this title by Jahāngīr when he was made chief huntsman (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668-72). After Jahāngīr’s death in 1627, Muʻtaqid Khān was promoted to Ilāhvirdī Khān by Shāh Jahān as a reward for his loyalty at the time of succession. This explains inscription B written by Muʻtaqid, now Ilāhvirdī Khān (or Chelah as his name is in the inscription), which confirms that the Shāhnāmah had been a gift from Jahāngīr which he was now presenting to his brother Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd1. The inscription is dated on the first of the month of Āzar, regnal year 8. Both John Seyller (“Workshop and Patron”: 264) and Jerry Losty (Art of the Book: 122-3) have interpreted this date as referring to the eighth year of Jahāngīr’s reign (November 1613) which is problematic. If the manuscript was presented to Ilāhvirdī Khān in 1613, then how could it have been in ʻAbd al-Raḥīm’s studio when the artist Shamāl completed his painting in 1616? Bearing in mind that inscriptions A and B presumably refer to the same person, the later inscription B, written after Jahāngīr's death, is surely more likely to indicate a date in Shāh Jahān’s reign equivalent to November 16352 referring to the time when Ilāhvirdī presented the book to Muḥammad Rashīd.

J64,2_Ilahvardi Khan_whole_2000
Portrait of Ilāhvirdī Khān (d. 1659), identified in a Persian inscription, c. 1680 (Johnson Album 64, 2)  noc
 
Inscription C is unfortunately undated but records that the manuscript passed from Muḥammad Rashīd, Ilāhvirdī's brother, to his son Muḥammad ʻĀrif. It is accompanied by his seal.

Several others are mentioned in later inscriptions and seals, but Khān Jahān Bahādur, mentioned in inscription D can perhaps be identified with Aurangzeb's military commander Khān Jahān Bahādur Ẓafar Jang Kokaltāsh who was awarded the title Khān Jahān Bahādur in regnal year 16 (1672/73). The seal associated with this inscription is dated 1101 (1689/90). Khān Jahān Bahādur became Governor of the Punjab in regnal year 34 (1690/91) and remained there until summoned to court three years later. He died in 1697 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 1: 783-91).

J18-12_Khan Jahan Bahadur.JPG_2000
Portrait of Khān Jahān Bahādur (d.1697), identified from a Persian inscription, by the artist Hūnhār, c. 1690. See also Mughal India, pp.156-8 (British Library Johnson Album 18, 12)  noc

The octagonal seal E on folio 1v is dated 1142? (1729/30) and belongs to Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur who was perhaps Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur Khvīshagī (d. 1743), a learned scholar and collector who was given the title Mutahhavar Khān after Aurangzebʼs death in 1707 (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ vol. 2: 333-43).

The most recent owner was Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), famous for his grammar of Bengali, his support of Warren Hastings and also his promotion of the self-proclaimed prophet Richard Brothers. Halhed acquired a fine collection of oriental manuscripts mainly in Calcutta between 1776 and 1789 and sold them to the British Museum in 1795 and 1796 (Add.5569-5661).

 
Seals and Inscriptions
3

Add5600f2r Add5600f1v
Left: Add.5600, folio 2r; right: Add.5600, folio 1v  noc

A
(in gold): Ba-tārīkh-i hashtum-i māh-i Amurdād [ilāhī] sannah 20 julūs-i mubārak [...] [ba-m]uʻtamad Muʻtaqid Khān ʻināyat k[ardah]
Translation: On the 8th of the month Amurdād ilāhī year 20 of the blessed accession [of Jahāngīr] (August 1625) [this book] was given to the trusted Muʻtaqid Khān

B (the left hand margin recopied at the time of repairs and added in [ ]): Īn Shāhnāmah rā ḥuz̤ūr-i ghufrān panāh Jahāngīr [pādshāh] bah kamtarīn-i ghulāmān Ilāhvirdī Chelah ʻināyat farm[ūdah būdand] bah tārīkh-i ghurrah-i māh Āzar ilāhī sannah 8 chūn milk-i [bandah būd] [ba-]barādar-i ʻazīz Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd guzarānīd[ah shud]
Translation: The late Jahāngīr pādshāh had given this Shāhnāmah to the least of his slaves, Ilāhvirdī Chelah. On the first of the month of Āzar ilāhī year 8 (of Shāh Jahān = November 1635), since it was mine (lit. the property of this slave), it was presented to [my] dear brother, Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd

C: Min mutamallakāt al-muḥtāj ilá raḥmat Allāh al-Malik al-Ḥamīd, Muḥammad ʻĀrif ibn Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd
Translation: From the possessions of one who needs the mercy of God the king the praised one, Muḥammad ʻĀrif son of Khvājah Muḥammad Rashīd ...
This is followed by a seal (undated): Dīn-i ʻĀrif ibn Muḥammad Rashīd yāftah bar fayz̤-i ilāhī kilīd

D: Min mutamallakāt-i Muḥammad ʻĀdil ibn Muḥammad Saʻīd bin Muḥammad Ḥasan mutannā-yi4 Navvāb Khān Jahān Bahādur ba-qaymat-i haftṣad rūpiyah dar Lāhūr kharīd namūdah shud.
Translation: From the property of Muḥammad ʻĀdil son of Muḥammad Saʻīd son of Muḥammad Ḥasan, purchased for 700 rupees at Lahore at the desire of Nawab Khān Jahān Bahādur.
This is followed by a seal:  ʻĀdil hast ibn Saʻīd Khān 1101? (1689/90)

E: Octagonal seal: Mutahavvar Khān Bahādur 1142? (1729/30)


Further reading

John Seyller, “Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Rāmāyaṇa and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ʻAbd al-Raḥīm”, Artibus Asiæ. Supplementum, 42 (1999): 263-73, 378.
J.P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982: 122-3.
J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire: Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012.

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork
----

[1] Ilāhvirdī Khān is known to have had one brother, Mukhliṣ Khān (Maʻāsir al-umarāʼ, vol. 1: 668), but he may well have had others whom we don’t know about!
[2] The ilāhī era was in use for the first 10 years of Shāh Jahānʼs reign until 1638 (Stephen Blake, Time in Early Modern Islam, CUP 2013, p.131).
[3] I am grateful to my colleague Saqib Baburi for his help and patience with these inscriptions!
[4] I am grateful to John Seyller for this suggestion.

 

Celebrating Noruz in Delhi with new 'Everlasting Flame'
Razmnamah: The Mughal Mahabharata
The tales of Darab: a medieval Persian prose romance
15000 images of Persian manuscripts online

15 June 2016

The Great Palace at Madurai

The city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu is the home of the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple, one of the largest and most famous temple complexes in the south of India. Far less is known about the Great Palace at Madurai, constructed by Tirumalai Nayak in the 1620s, which covered an area the same size as the temple complex. In the early 18th Century, following the demise of the Nayak Dynasty, the palace fell into disrepair. Today, only two buildings from the original palace are still standing, and are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

F31 detail
Detail from an oil painting by Francis Swain Ward showing the west side of the palace from outside the city walls, 1764 (British Library F31)
 noc

In the British Library’s collections, there are numerous visual sources showing how the Palace at Madurai looked in the 18th Century. With the help of these images, one can reconstruct areas of the palace that are now missing.

Ktop115
Detail from a map of Madurai by William Jenings, 1755. The palace buildings, labelled “5”, are in the top left corner. (British Library Maps.K.Top.115.87)
 noc

The history of courtly architecture in South India has understandably been overshadowed by interest in temples. It is far easier to research a vibrant living tradition than it is to study the fragmented remains of a palace. Fortunately, pictures and archival records such as those in the British Library can help form a clearer picture of Madurai’s palace, and its powerful relationship with the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple.

P948
Aquatint by Thomas and William Daniell of a missing courtyard, 1792. (British Library P948)
 noc

WD4561
Drawing by Elisha Trapaud of missing structures in the palace, 1780s. (British Library WD4561)
 noc

The Nayak Palace at Madurai is an architectural conduit towards our understanding of South Indian courtly architecture. It was constructed when the Vijayanagar Empire was falling into decline in the early 17th Century, and it was in use when a number of small adjacent kingdoms, such as Pudukkottai and Ramnad, began building palaces of their own. Madurai’s palace therefore provides an important link within South India’s palace building traditions.


Further reading
Howes, Jennifer, The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India: Material Culture and Kingship. London: Routledge, 2003.
Michell, George, The Vijayanagar Courtly Style: Incorporation and Synthesis in the Royal Architecture of Southern India. New Delhi: Manohar, 1992.
Patterson, George, The Diary of George Patterson (1772-1773). Vol. 8 of 9, pp. 238-242  (British Library Mss Eur E379). 

Jennifer Howes, Art Historian
 ccownwork

 

10 June 2016

Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 2)

In the previous Ofuda blog, we gave a brief introduction to Japanese amulets (Ofuda) which have always reflected the fundamental curiosity of people about the uncertainties of life.
 
Image1
Ee ja nai ka ええじゃないかwas a convergence of carnival-like religious celebrations which coincided with a rumour that the Ofuda of Ise Shrine would fall down from heaven. Japan, between June 1867 and May 1868. Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋 暁斎. ‘Keiō Hōnen odori no zu 慶應四豊年踊之圖’ from the series Egoyomi Harikomichō  [絵暦貼込帳] 1792-1870. National Diet Library

Lafcadio Hearn was a Japanologist who was fascinated by Ofuda. Hearn was born on Lefkada, in the Greek Ionian islands, in 1850 during the British occupation.  He was the son of an Irish soldier and a Greek mother, and moved to Ireland when he was still an infant. He later worked as a journalist in the USA and eventually settled in Japan in 1890 where he married a Japanese woman the following year, and in 1896 obtained Japanese citizenship and took the Japanese name of Koizumi Yakumo 小泉八雲.

Image2
Lafcadio Hearn and Bruce Rogers. The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1905. British Library, 12355.aa.26

Lafcadio Hearn's last book, The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories, is an anthology of seven different short studies and stories. One of these is ‘Goblin Poetry’, Hearn’s selected translations taken from the Kyōka hyaku monogatari  狂歌百物語. Hearn owned a copy of the original work, which was compiled by Tenmei Rōjin 天明老人 , illustrated by Ryūsai Kanjin 竜斎閑人 and published in 1853 (Kaei嘉永6).  Together with the majority of Hearn's private book collection, it was purchased by Toyama High School (est. 1924), which later became Toyama University, where The Lafcadio Hearn Library is now held. Kyōka hyaku monogatari was listed on p.117 in the Catalogue of the Lafcadio Hearn Library in Toyama High School (1927).

Image3
The cover of the first volume, and (in the centre) Fuda Hegashi 札へがし. Poems on One Hundred Ghost Stories (Kyōka hyaku monogatari 狂歌百物語), woodblock print, 1853 (Kaei 6).  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Department of Asian Art (Rogers Fund, 1918) JIB27_001, JIB27_136

In ‘Goblin Poetry’, Hearn wrote an explanation of the Japanese title as follows: 'The Hyaku monogatari or “Hundred Tales” is a famous book of ghost stories, Kyōka is written with a Chinese character signifying “insane” or “crazy” and it means a particular and extraordinary variety of comic poetry' (Hearn & Rogers 1905: 53-54).

Image4
The chapter on Fuda Hegashi 札へがし in ‘Goblin Poetry’. Lafcadio Hearn and Bruce Rogers, The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1905. British Library 12355.aa.26

In his footnote to poem 'XII, FUDA-HÉGASHI', which he explains as “Make-peel-off-august-charm Ghost”, Hearn also refers to his other book Ghostly Japan in which the reader can find a good Japanese story about a Fuda-hégashi (Hearn & Rogers 1905: 92-93).  This is the story ‘A Passion of Karma’, the English translation of Botandōrō 牡丹灯籠.

Iamge5
In Ghostly Japan is a collection of 14 mysterious Japanese short stories. Story No 6  is  ‘A Passion of Karma’. Lafcadio Hearn, In Ghostly Japan. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co, 1899. British Library, 08631.F.6

In 1934, Hearn’s family published an extremely valuable book on the thirtieth anniversary of his death. It was an endeavour in which his whole family was heavily involved: his eldest son was the editor, his grandson wrote the Daisen題簽 (the book title slip), and the design of the cover cloth was inspired by Hearn’s favourite bedcover.  Yōma shiwa 妖魔詩話 assembled together three elements in one  book: the original Japanese text of the Kyōka hyaku monogatari; ‘Goblin Poetry’, which was Hearn’s published English translation; and Hearn’s own draft notes for the preparation of his publication. For an introduction to the book, and the background to its publication in 1934, see 小泉八雲秘稿画本「妖魔詩話 」/ 寺田寅彦 著

Iamge6
This is the page on Fuda Hegashi 札へがし. At top left is a facsimile of Hearn’s manuscript with his original illustration; at bottom left is a modern Japanese transcription of Edo Kyōka poems and explanations in Japanese, based on Hearn’s English translation edited by his eldest son Kazuo Koizumi; while on the right page is the main text of ‘Goblin Poetry’. Lafcadio Hearn and Kazuo Koizumi小泉一雄. Yoma Shiwa: Koizumi Yakumo Hiko Gahon妖魔詩話 : 小泉八雲秘稿畫本. Tōkyō: Hakubunkan Shinsha 東京 : 博文館新社, 2002. British Library, ORB.99/236.  Image courtesy of Hakubunkan Shinsha博文館新社.

The British Library has recently acquired a deluxe facsimile published in 2002 of Yōma shiwa 妖魔詩話, which was originally published in 1934 by Oyama Shoten 小山書店, which affords us a rare opportunity of seeing Hearn’s handwriting.  Although the footnotes for ‘Goblin Poetry’ were omitted in Yōma shiwa, nevertheless, we are still aware of Hearn’s clear intention to link Fuda Hegashi and the well-known episode of Ofuda-hagashi お札はがし in ‘A Passion of Karma’ in his two books, The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories and In Ghostly Japan.

Bl_ofuda_16007_d_1_book_1_71-73
From a collection of c.330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880's mounted in 5 albums. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵] British Library, 16007.d.1(1)71-73

Further reading:

Chronology of Lafcadio Hearn. Sanin Japan-Ireland Association.

Yasuyo Ohtsuka
Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

07 June 2016

Imperial Vietnamese scrolls in the British Library

The number of Vietnamese manuscripts in the British Library is relatively small in comparison with other Southeast Asian manuscript collections, but nonetheless represent well the writing methods and formats of the region. Since Vietnamese literary and historical styles were heavily influenced by Chinese traditions, they shared some similar characteristics. First and foremost, Vietnamese literati studied and wrote in Chinese (chữ Hán in Vietnamese), even though the Vietnamese later invented a simplified script based on Chinese script (chữ Nôm in Vietnamese). Thus Vietnamese manuscripts in our collection are all written in chữ Hán or a mixture of chữ Hán and chữ Nôm. Secondly, the Vietnamese also wrote on scrolls as well as in bound books, in the same fashion as East Asian literary cultures.

In this post I will present five outstanding Vietnamese scrolls in the British Library, dating from two different periods - the late 18th century and the early 20th century - and explore their historical and cultural background. All are imperial documents, illuminated with bold dragon patterns, symbolising the emperor and imperial power.

Two scrolls of Emperor Cảnh Thịnh (r. 1792-1802)

DSCN0407Vietnamese imperial scroll, 1793. British Library, Or. 14817/B Noc

These two scrolls are important historical documents of the Tây Sơn rulers (1772-1802) who ruled Vietnam briefly in the late 18th century. The first scroll (Or.14817/A) is written in Hán-Nôm characters on orange paper decorated with a large dragon, and bears the royal seal stamped in red ink. This scroll is in good condition with all of the text still intact, and can currently be viewed in the small exhibition of Southeast Asian manuscripts, 'More than a Book', on display in the British Library at St Pancras in London. A second scroll (Or.14817/B), however, is slightly damaged as can be seen in the image shown above, and though the day of the month (20) can still be read, the part of the text naming the month and year is missing. However, Trần Nghĩa - a Vietnamese scholar and an expert in Hán-Nôm - who inspected these two scrolls in 1995, is of the opinion that considering the content and style of writing, these two scrolls were issued at a similar date and for the same occasion.

The content of the first scroll reveals that it was issued by Emperor Cảnh Thịnh on 1st May 1793 to Lord McCartney, the head of the British diplomatic and commercial mission to China in 1792. In 1793 the McCartney Mission, headed by Lord McCartney, was on its way to China to establish commercial relations between Britain and China, when it was struck by storm off the coast of Central Vietnam. Lord McCartney sent a delegation to the Emperor seeking help and provisions. In return, the Emperor provided rice and other food and sent this scroll to welcome the mission.

DSCN0410
Reverse of Vietnamese imperial scroll, 1793. British Library, Or. 14817/B Noc

Three imperial edicts of Emperor Khải Định (r. 1916-1925)

Emperor Khải Định (1885-1925, r. 1916-1925), who considered Vietnam to be a backward country in need of western technology, was criticised by the nationalists for his pro-French attitude and extravagant lifestyle. We hold three imperial edicts issued during his reign and all three are elaborately decorated.

On the occasion of his enthronement, Emperor Khải Định issued an edict dated March 18, 1917 to raise the status of the spirit of Đông Hái of Hậu Bổng village in Hải Dương province (Or. 14631). Đông Hải was upgraded to a mid-rank god (Trung đẳng thần), reflecting the Vietnamese tradition of deification of spirits or gods. These spirits could be nature deities, community or kinship tutelary deities, national heroes, or ancestral gods of a specific family, and are classified into different ranks of status. The edict was written on yellow paper, and measures 123 x 51 cm. The front side has a dragon pattern with silver scales and bears an imperial seal. On the reverse, unlike other scrolls in our collection, there are two patterns of flower pots and symbols of longevity instead of the usual four mythical creatures.

DSCN0384
Front of imperial edict of Emperor Khải Định, 25 July 1917. British Library, Or. 14631 Noc

On the occasion of his 40th birthday, Emperor Khải Định issued an edict on July 25, 1924 to honour the spirit of Phạm Công of Văn Lâm village, Hải Dương province (Or. 14632). The edict was written on yellow paper and is finely decorated with different patterns. The main design in the middle of the paper is a gilded dragon and an imperial emblem, and the edict bears an imperial red seal. On the reverse are the four mythical and sacred annimals, namely the dragon, phoenix, turtle and unicorn, all beautifully painted with gilded outlines.  There are two symbols of longevity in the middle of the scroll, which measures 135 x 52 cm.

DSCN0396
Front of Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Định, 25 July 1924, British Library, Or. 14632 Noc

On the same day, Emperor Khải Định issued a further edict (Or. 14665); this one was to raise the status of the spirit of the god Nam Hải of of Hậu Bổng village in Hải Dương province (the same deity named in Khải Định’s edict of 1917) to the highest rank. He became God of the South Sea. The edict is written on gilded yellow paper in the same fashion as the other edict issued on the same date (July 25, 1924), with a bold golden dragon design. The reverse was decorated with the four gilded mythical and sacred animals and also two symbols of longevity. The designs on this scroll have been discussed in another blog post on 'Mythical creatures in Vietnamese culture'.

DSCN0388
Front of Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Định, 1924, British Library, Or.14665 Noc

Dragon designs differed from one dynasty to another. Nguyễn Ngọc Tho from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, points out that in comparison with the Japanese dragon, the Vietnamese dragon is characterised by three main features: (1) non-standardisation, (2) diversity, and (3) constant change and development.  For example, the Ly dynasty’s dragon (11-13th century) was a long snake-like figure with non-scale and zig-zag curly body.  During the Trần dynasty (1226-1400) the dragon’s body became bigger and fatter, the claws became sharper and the head and the neck were irregularly changed, while the dragon tail remained unchanged. From the Le dynasty (1428-1527 and 1599-1788) onward, the dragon was greatly influenced by the Chinese exemplar, and therefore local features tended to recede. After 1945, with the end of the last feudal dynasty, the noble significance of the dragon became weak and gradually disappeared  (Nguyễn 2015: 11-13).

Further reading:
Nguyễn Ngọc Thọ. The Symbol of the Dragons and Ways to Shape Cultural Identities in Vietnam and Japan. Harvard–Yenching Institute Working Paper Series, 2015.
Pierre Huard et Maurice Durand, Connaissance du Viet-Nam. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1954.
Trần Nghĩa, “Sách Hán-Nôm tại thư viện vương quốc Anh” (Books in Sino-Vietnamese at the British Library), Tạp chí Hán-Nôm, 3(24),1995, pp. 3-14.
Womack, Brantly. China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

With thanks to Ke Wang for his help in deciphering Chinese characters.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

03 June 2016

Exploring Thai art: Doris Duke

In December 2004, the British Library acquired a small number of Thai and Burmese manuscripts, wooden manuscript boards, manuscript chests and cabinets, as well as paintings, from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. Doris Duke (1912-1993) assembled one of the finest collections of Thai and Burmese art outside Southeast Asia, which upon her death was passed to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Foundation donated Doris Duke’s Art Collection to various museums in the United States and to three British institutions: the British Library, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Kaiden Kazanjian Studios 1925
Doris Duke ca. 1925. Photograph by Kaiden Kazanjian Studios. Courtesy of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

Doris Duke, born in 1912, was the only child of James Buchanan Duke and Nanaline Holt Inman. She inherited at the young age of twelve a substantial part of her father’s fortune, which was based on tobacco and hydropower production. Doris Duke pursued a variety of interests which included travelling the world and collecting art. When she went on a round-the-world honeymoon with her first husband, James H. R. Cromwell, in 1935 she visited Egypt, the Near East, India, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan and Europe. The cultures of the Near East, South and Southeast Asia sparked Doris Duke’s life-long passion for Southeast Asian and Islamic arts. One of Doris Duke’s first great art projects was the construction of Shangri La, her residence in Honolulu that was inspired by Islamic art, in the late 1930s.

After several trips to Thailand and Burma, Doris Duke established the Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture in 1961. With the help of agents, the curator of the Foundation, F. D. de Bérenx, began to buy extensively Southeast Asian art and antiques of all types, including manuscript cabinets and manuscripts, Thai furniture and ceramics, Sino-Thai porcelains, wood, stone, bronze and ivory sculptures, and complete Thai houses. After a short period of time the Foundation had formed one of the largest and most important collections of Thai and Burmese art, furniture and decorative objects outside Southeast Asia, all stored at Shangri La.

Foster_1056_fs011r
Northern Thai wooden manuscript box, decorated with red and black lacquer, gold and mirror-glass-inlay (19th century). Gift from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. British Library, Foster 1056 Noc

Inspired by meetings with Jim Thompson and visits to his traditional Thai residence in Bangkok, Doris Duke’s idea was to re-create and furnish an entire Thai village in Hawai’i, complete with a replica of a Thai royal pavilion, which she intended to open to the public for educational purposes, stressing the decorative and minor art works rather than archaeology and the major arts. Numerous drawings of the proposed village site and plans for the buildings that were to be constructed were made, but the acquisition of a site that fulfilled all of Doris Duke’s requirements proved difficult. In 1965 a fire at Shangri La destroyed five Thai houses. Doris Duke then considered Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey, as a possible site for the Thai village, and by 1972 all of the 2,000 Southeast Asian items had been shipped to New Jersey. Part of the collection was finally put on display in the Coach Barn and opened to the public in December 1972. Although her dream of a Thai village was never fulfilled, Doris Duke continued to acquire Thai and other Southeast Asian art works up until her death in 1993.  

Vessantara Add Or 5582
19th century painting on linen from central Thailand, showing a scene from the Vessantara Jataka. Gift from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. British Library, Add.Or.5582 Noc

In 2001, shortly after Forrest McGill, Chief Curator at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, had viewed the collection at Duke Farms, the Coach Barn was flooded and the moisture affected several of the larger collection items. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation decided then to donate museum-quality items from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection to institutions where her collection could be displayed and made accessible to the general public, with the Asian Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum receiving the first of these gifts.

The late Dr Henry Ginsburg, former Curator of Thai, Lao and Cambodian Collections at the British Library, helped to negotiate the distribution of selected items to institutions in the UK. At the time, he commented: “Along with a number of Thai and Burmese manuscripts, the Library’s acquisitions include a group of elaborately decorated manuscript cabinets dating from the 18th and 19th century. Such cabinets were not previously represented in any British collections; the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation now means the British Library has the finest examples in the country, together with those donated to the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.”

Thai cabinet hr
Wooden manuscript cabinet from central Thailand, with carved decorations of Kinnari in lacquer and gilt (19th century). Gift from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. British Library, Foster 1058 Noc

The bequest to the British Library included two wooden manuscript cabinets decorated with gilt and lacquer from Thailand, as well as a Northern Thai manuscript box with gilt, lacquer and glass inlay. Two gilded and lacquered manuscript chests and one manuscript box came from Burma. In addition to the manuscript furniture the donation included Thai paintings showing scenes from the Vessantara Jataka, a very rare Burmese ivory manuscript, a Shan manuscript from Burma, and a Northern Thai palm leaf manuscript with lacquered covers decorated in mother-of-pearl inlay, as well as four Shan manuscript covers with lacquer, gilt and glass inlay decoration.

Or_16077_fblefr
Wooden manuscript board with black and red lacquer decorations as well as mother-of-pearl inlay, belonging to a Northern Thai Buddhist palm leaf manuscript dated 1851. Gift from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. British Library, Or.16077 Noc

Particularly the rare pieces of Thai and Burmese furniture reflect not only how manuscripts were traditionally kept in Southeast Asia, but they are also outstanding examples of Southeast Asian lacquer art. In Thailand, unique lacquer and gilded designs were often applied on wooden furniture, doors and window panels of Buddhist monasteries or royal palaces. The technique consists of applying to the wooden panel several coats of black lacquer, a resin from a tree in the sumac family growing in mainland Southeast Asia. The drawing is then traced, and with a yellow-gummy paint the parts which have to remain black are covered in all their smallest details. The next process is to give a thin coat of lacquer over the surface, and when it is semi-dry, gold leaf is applied over the whole surface. After about twenty hours the work is washed with water to detach the gummy-paint in order to let the remaining gold design appear in all its details. Hence this art is called "lai rot nam" in Thai - designs washed with water. Of course, the beauty of the lacquer work depends first upon a perfect design and afterwards a perfect execution which the artist himself must carry out.

Foster_1057_fs003r
Detail from a large wooden manuscript cabinet from central Thailand showing a scene from the Mahosadha Jataka, one of the last Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha. The filigrane gold and lacquer decoration made in “lai rot nam” technique is of outstanding quality (19th century). Gift from Doris Duke’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. British Library, Foster 1057 Noc


The art of lacquer reached its peak in the Ayutthaya kingdom in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Later the capital of Thailand moved to Thonburi, and then to Bangkok in 1782. The art of lacquer continued to follow the achievements and styles of earlier times, though other influences, particularly Chinese flower and landscape designs, became more pronounced.

Further reading:
About Doris Duke. Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Doris Duke’s Shangri La – architecture, landscape and Islamic art. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Emerald Cities - Arts of Siam and Burma: Conserving the Collection. Asian Art Museum San Francisco.
Falkenstein, Michelle, A trove of treasures in a barn. The New York Times, October 19, 2003
Tingley, Nancy, Doris Duke. The Southeast Asian Art Collection. New York, 2003

Previous blog posts in this series:

Exploring Thai art: James Low (3 Feb 2016)

Exploring Thai art: Karl Siegfried Döhring (5 Nov 2015)

Döhring

Jana Igunma, Henry Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian Ccownwork