THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

178 posts categorized "Art"

14 February 2017

Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts

Add comment

For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry in particular has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts, we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.

BL Grenville_xli_f066v_detail
Illustration to a ghazal celebrating love and music from an undated Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ. The painting is unsigned (BL Grenville XLI, f. 66v noc

We begin with a painting (Grenville XLI, f. 66v) illustrating a lyric poem or ghazal (rhyming a-a, b-a, c-a, and so on) by one the genre’s most distinguished exponents, Ḥāfiẓ of Shīrāz (d. circa 1202). Although its tone is initially celebratory, the composition continues by examining different aspects of the lover’s condition, gradually moving toward the melancholic. Couplets 1, 2, and 6 illustrate this shift:

Love's musician possesses an amazing instrument and sound / every air composed strikes a chord.
May the world never empty of lovers’ laments / their sound possesses a delightful harmony.
Showing tears of blood, doctors commented / it is the disease of love, requiring heartrending medication.

The painting is broadly consistent with the ghazal’s narrative arc, showing seated musicians in the foreground facing several figures on a canopied stone platform. The mature male on the left is presumably Ḥāfiẓ addressing his patron, seated on the right, notionally depicted here as a youth absorbed in love’s sorrows.

Although the manuscript is not dated, it is thought to have been transcribed around 1600-1605 in Timurid/Mughal India, and illustrated very soon after. Some of the damage caused to other figures in the same scene is due to the partial obliteration of faces and strategic overpainting (now partially removed), ordered by later owners. Another Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ (Or 14139, f. 47r) refurbished with decorated margins just a few years earlier at the same court isolates the celebratory theme of the first couplet interpreted more straightforwardly as a European musical entertainer playing a fiddle-like instrument while dancing on the spot, and enclosed within an ornamental cartouche.

BL Or_14139_f047r_detail
Ghazal celebrating love and music from a Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ dateable to circa 1470, with illumination added in the margins as part of later refurbishment (BL Or 14139, f. 47r)  noc

Epic poetry and romances play an important role in distilling specific personal traits and emotional states in the characters of the heroes, heroines, and lovers they seek to celebrate, and thereby humanising the ghazal’s expressive and frequently abstract repertoire of conceits and metaphors. The exploits of the archetypal hero, Sasanian ruler Bahrām Gūr (Bahrām V, d. 438), are the subject of several works of epic poetry, notably the Haft Paykar, part of the Khamsah or Quintet of poems by Niẓāmī of Ganjah (d. 599/1203). In one of the finest manuscript treasures at the British Library, the interpretation of a distinctly amorous scene has been the source of some confusion (Or 2265, f. 221r).

BL Or_2265_f221v_detail
Scene from the tale of King Turktāzī and Turktāz, queen of the faeries, as told by the Princess of India in the Haft Paykar from Shāh Ṭahmāsp Ṣafavī's Khamsah of Niẓāmī. Signed by Muḥammad Zamān, dated 1086/1675-76. For more on this painting see Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman (BL Or 2265, f. 221v)  noc

The Haft Paykar’s allegorical narrative describes Bahrām Gūr’s encounters with seven princesses over the period of seven evenings. An illustration close to the beginning of the narrative appears at first to depict the first of the seven encounters, specifically, with the Princess of India dressed in black, representing Saturn. A closer reading of the text indicates the painting is an illustration from an edifying tale told by the Indian princess of King Turktāzī entertained by Turktāz, queen of the faeries.

After a lengthy description of Turktāzī awaking in an enchanted garden, the mas̲navī (couplets rhyming a-a, b-b, c-c, and so forth) gradually recounts the impression made be the queen’s magical arrival and unveiling to expose her European (literally Rūmī or Byzantine) features and complexion. Following tender exchanges, the romantically-charged feast of duck (replaced in the painting by pomegranates) and wine takes on a renewed intensity. It is at this point the surge of passion is delicately summarised by the use of familiar musical metaphors establishing the convivial mood:

The musician entered and cup bearers departed / joyousness hardly needed an excuse.
Every imperforate pearl was pierced (in sequence) / every song followed another.
Dance opened the field to form a circle / entering on foot, skipping and gesturing.

BL Or_12208_f123r_detail
Zayd revives the fainting Laylá and Majnūn (Qays) in the wilderness in Laylá va Majnūn from the Khamsah of Niẓāmī written for  the Timurid/Mughal Emperor Akbar I. Ascribed to Farrukh Chelah (BL Or 12208, f. 123r)  noc

In another mas̲navī from the same work, but a different illustrated manuscript (Or 12208, f. 122v), Niẓāmī records with particular sensitivity the doomed relationship of two pre-Islamic lovers, Laylá and Majnūn (originally known as Qays). Qays, distracted with love’s ardour for his beloved since childhood, Laylá, is driven to the wilderness where he is reduced to rags. It is at this point he is given the epithet majnūn, Arabic for ‘possessed by jinns’ or ‘maniac.’ Later, a mutual friend, Zayd, momentarily reunites Majnūn with Laylá in the vicinity of her tents. The scene of their dramatic meeting is evoked in the following selection of couplets:

Majnūn, upon seeing his beloved / glimpsing his soul in a dark veil.
He, alive, though spiritless / she, withholding her life, yet dead.
The two lovers collapsed, senseless / worldly sounds evade their ears.
Bloodthirsty beasts encircle / sharpening their claws in the dead.
The two fallen lovers remained / until midday on the path.

We see in the exquisitely detailed painting by Farrukh Chelah (ascribed in the lower border) that Laylá and Majnūn are being revived by Zayd with a bottle of perfume, just as the text specifies. However, Farrukh Chelah has used this illustration as an opportunity to fill his composition with an array of vegetal, animal, and topographical features that go beyond the text, to make a visually stimulating whole.

Returning to the ghazal genre, a perennial concern to literary critics is the degree to which poets and their audiences, including later illustrators of their works, interpret meaning. Insofar as the Persian language is essentially gender neutral, that is, you cannot automatically infer from a text whether the subject is male or female in the absence of a gendered attribute, poets have in the past been able to encode into their compositions both heterosexual and homosexual references. Such constructive ambiguity, to borrow a recent term, has in turn been exploited by illustrators to respond to the demands of their patrons, in determining the male or female gender of the beloved as described.

BL IO_Islamic_843_f322r_detail
An older man clasps the hand of a departing adolescent boy, based on a ghazal from the Kullīyāt of Saʿdī, dated 1624 (BL IO Islamic 843, f. 322r)  noc

In a painting from a lavishly illustrated copy of the Kullīyāt or compendium of collected works by Saʿdī (d. 690/1291), dated 1624 and made in Safavid Shīrāz, the poet’s place of birth (IO Islamic 843, f. 322r), we witness the interplay between words and the painted image. The scene shows men seated around a pool, several of them with books in hand, indicating a genial poetic gathering. The bearded man seated in a recess clasps the hand of an adolescent boy about to depart. The relevant couplet illustrated here does not, however, mention either the gathering of men, the reading of poetry, or the detention of a boy specifically, except for the daring khvājah, who is in this context a mature man. It is evident from the range of certain visual interpretations of gender in illustrated manuscripts of poetry that patrons and readers generally approached such nuanced subjects with latitude.


Sâqib Bâburî

Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project
 ccownwork

25 January 2017

East India Company headquarters on Leadenhall Street

Add comment

BBC One’s new period drama Taboo with actor Tom Hardy follows the story of James Keziah Delaney and his encounters with the East India Company. As the headquarters of the East India Company on Leadenhall Street was demolished in 1861 which is the present day site of Lloyds of London, the programme used Goldsmiths Hall in the city of London for their 'headquarters'.

IMG_1151
Detail showing East India House from 'Plan of Queen Hith and Vintry Wards divided into Parishes from a New Survey'. Map of the City of London by Royce showing Leadenhall Street and East India House. Late 18th century. 1780-1800. British Library, P2337  noc

Since the 17th century, the East India Company offices were based in east London. The history of the headquarters and new buildings constructed for the purposes of company affairs can be documented through the prints and drawings held in our collections. The earliest drawing of ‘Old East India House’ in our collection is attributed to William Vertu and dates to c.1711. Our catalogue records states: ‘The drawing shows the original home of the East India Company. It was formerly the house of Sir William Craven and was leased to him by Robert Lee and Anne, his wife, for twenty-one years by an agreement dated 22 May 1607, to which was added a schedule of the fittings (see P.E. Jones, 'East India House', ‘Notes and Queries,’ 25 March 1944, vol.186, no.6, 153, and lease and schedule, Corporation of London Records Office, no.131.1, now in Guildhall Library MSS.).  The schedule is mostly concerned with the interior of the house, but mentions 'An fine paire of Gates with a Portcullis of wood' followed by a description of 'The Yard next Leadenhall Street'.  The house was later leased by William, then Lord Craven and the owner, to the East India Company, 11 March 1661, and it was later purchased by the Company in 1710’. 

East India House 1711

The old East India House, Leadenhall Street, London. Attributed by William Foster to George Vertue, c.1711. British Library, WD1341  noc

In 1726, architect Theodore Jacobsen was commissioned to redesign and expand the headquarters. The project was completed by in 1729 under the direction of John James. The new East India Company headquarters was designed in the fashionable Palladian style. An undated print documents the facade of the building as it stood from 1729-1786 and is featured below.

FullSizeRender
The East India House, no imprint, 1726-1786, British Library, P2189  noc

Reflecting the great wealth of the East India Company, no expense was spared on the interior decorations. Palladian architectural features, including Corinthian pilasters and heavy moulding, continued throughout the interior. Lavish Georgian furnishing including ornately carved boardroom tables and velvet upholstered chairs for the Chairman and Vice-President, were commissioned. Works of art, including a series of paintings by George Lambert and Samuel Scott of East India Company settlements and full-length sculptures of eminent officials including Lord Robert Clive were made by Peter Scheemakers. 

F905_3
Director's chair with the East India Company arms embroidered on the crimson velvet, c. 1730. British Library, Foster 905  noc

In 1796, the Company purchased an additional plot of land and work began to extend its premises. The designs and project was started by Richard Jupp and completed by Henry Holland in 1799. The front of the building faced Leadenhall Street; the premises included a new 'Sale Room, Pay Office, as well as rooms for the Committees of Correspondence, Shipping and Warehouses' (Hardy 1982, p.7). Art works and historic furniture commissioned in the 1730s continued to be displayed and used in the new building. In the illustration of the Directors' Court Room, you can see the Chairman's crimson velvet chair and the oil paintings by Lambert and Scott on display. The furniture featured in the illustration are held by the British Library.

WD4585
The East India House, Leadenhall Street attributed to James Malton, c.1800,  as rebuilt by Richard Jupp and Henry Holland in 1796 to 1799. British Library, WD4585  noc

WD 2465_576
The Directors' Court Room, East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, c.1820 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. British Library, WD2465  noc

Following the India Act of 1833, Uprisings of 1857 and the India Bill of 1858, the East India Company and the Board of Control offices merged to form the India Office. The building on Leadenhall Street was sold in 1861 and within months destroyed (Hardy 1982, p.9). The India Office retained the furniture and works of art mentioned above; these were incorporated into their new offices in Whitehall, now part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A selection of oil paintings and sculpture remain on display at the FCO; the rest are held at the British Library.

For readers interested in the India Office Records and the historical archives: East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

 

Further reading:

William Foster, India Office Library: Prints and Drawings, India Office, 1924

William Foster, East India House: its history and associations, John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, 1924

John Hardy, India Office Furniture, British Library, 1982

Karen Stapley, A break-in at East India HouseUntold Live Blog

Hedley Sutton, Treasures of the Asia and Africa Reading RoomAsian and African studies Blog

 

 

Malini Roy

Visual Arts Curator

16 January 2017

The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix

Add comment

One of the more enigmatic manuscripts now in the British Library (IO Islamic 1255) from the rich library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore (d. 1213/1799), is the untitled qiṣṣah or tale featuring a figure popular across the range of Persian literature, the Prophet Sulaymān (the biblical Solomon, son of David). In this tale, the prophet-king is confronted by the head of the ranks of birds, the Sīmurgh (Phoenix), expressing its disbelief in the doctrine of predestination (qaz̤āʾ va qadr). Having angered Allāh, Jibrāʾīl (the archangel Gabriel) is sent to inform Sulaymān of a prophecy foretelling the birth of the Prince of the East (Malikzādah-′i Mashriq) and the Princess of the West, daughter of the Malik-i Maghrib, who together bear a child out of wedlock. The Sīmurgh believes it can prevent this outcome. Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh conclude an agreement (qawl) to reassess the situation after fifteen years, by which time the accuracy of the prophecy would be apparent.

BL_IO_Islamic_1255_f2v
The Prophet Solomon and the Phoenix’s agreement is witnessed by members of his court; the two yogis in the foreground represent the assembled jinns. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 2v. Noc

The tale additionally interweaves several digressive subplots focussing on the adventures of the Prince of the East from his minority to adolescence. In the process, his development into a pious youth is mapped through a succession of episodes where he interacts with magical beasts, Satan, kings, courtiers, merchants, and sages. This didactic tale may be part of the ‘mirror for princes’ tradition, but as we shall later discover, there is more to it than appears at first glance.

BL_IO_Islamic_1255_f8r
The Prince of the East (not shown) overhears a king’s angry exchanges with his courtiers while seated amid special trees. Note the lengthy jamahs and sweeping turbans that indicate eighteenth-century courtly fashions, while the patterned floorcoverings attempt to capture the rich texture of contemporary embroidered and brocaded soft furnishings. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 8r. Noc

Profusely illustrated, the manuscript IO Islamic 1255 has surprisingly eluded scholarly attention. Although it ends without a dated colophon, the distinctive style and details of its 63 illustrations on 26 folios offer sufficient evidence to locate its origins in mid-eighteenth-century Deccan, possibly even the Carnatic, ruled by the Nawabs of Arcot. On the other hand, the coarse nastaʿlīq script tending toward taʿlīq makes it clear that this is not the product of an élite or royal workshop. The absence of gold illumination and the use of a muted colour palette further strengthen this impression. The unusually tall and narrow format underscores the peculiarity of the volume as a whole. Though the paintings have oxidised in areas, the manuscript must have been a valued item in Tipu’s library, as the work was bound in a contemporary finely-tooled, gilded, and painted leather binding.

BL_IO_Islamic_1255_f22r
The Prince of the East is discovered by his two Arabian horses while sheltering under the hide of a horse at the foot an isolated tree. This image shows the increased levels of pigment oxidation in paintings towards the end of the manuscript. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library, British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 22r. Noc

The tale’s literary significance is heightened when considering the version in another British Library manuscript catalogued recently, entitled Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr (IO Islamic 4806). We encounter the familiar characters of the Prophet Sulaymān, the Sīmurgh, the Prince of the East and Princess of the West, with the narrative sharing the same basic structure. Like the version in the Tipu manuscript, the tale’s author is not named. Differences lie in the laconic style of the substantially abridged account, with some passages and episodes rearranged, and others omitted. Occasionally, the simplicity of prose is abandoned in favour of a more formal style and additional poems, while adjectives and titles take on a distinctly courtly flavour. Notwithstanding, the overall feel is that of a relatively faithful retelling of the Tipu version.

The most original feature of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr is its introductory matter (ff. 1v-3r), which elevates it to the status of pseudo-history and prophetic tradition. Accordingly, when the Prophet Muḥammad was troubled by Meccan groups, Jibrāʾīl appears and gives him the seal of Sulaymān, a gift from Allāh. Jibrāʾīl is asked if it prevents death. He clarifies that there are two kinds of death, qaz̤ā-′i muḥkam or conspicuous (avoidable?) death and qaz̤ā-′i mubram or certain death. After a few days, Jibrāʾīl reappears and narrates the tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh to demonstrate how nothing escapes the certainty of fate. The tale begins from this point forward in much the same way as the Tipu manuscript.

BL_IO_Islamic_4806_f1v
Illuminated sarlawḥ and opening passage of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr. British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 1v. Noc

The tale’s connection with the Prophet Muḥammad is established on the authority of a tenuous chain of transmission, mentioning the names of Ibn Saʿd (d. ca. 66/686), who heard it from Ḥasan Baṣrī (d. 110/728), who heard it from one of the unidentified muʿtamadān or confidants of the Prophet. Whether or not the chain of transmission is authentic, such details are unnecessary for the purpose of a mere adventure tale, indicating the intention to emphasise its moral and pious message. While subsequent details correspond closely with the Tipu manuscript, these extraordinary passages do not appear in that version.

The Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr manuscript is not dated and owners’ marks have been erased. It consists of 26 folios commencing with a gilded and painted sarlawḥ or headpiece, and has gold rulings throughout, with scribal nastaʿlīq on thin burnished paper. The nine brightly coloured illustrations are painted with sparsely populated simplistic compositions. Only the King of the West and the Prince of the East are depicted wearing Persian (Safavid) costume, while the remaining characters are dressed in eighteenth-century Hindustani attire. Neither manuscript has chapter or section headings, making it difficult to follow the programme of illustration in both manuscripts without closely reading adjacent text. A comparative list of illustrations in both manuscripts can be found here: Download Solomon and the Phoenix illustrations.

BL_IO_Islamic_4806_f3v
The King of the West’s men shoot at the Phoenix stealing the Princess’s cradle. Note the differentiation in status between figures reflected in their costume. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 3v. Noc

BL_IO_Islamic_4806_f19r
The Princess of the West falls in love with the Prince of the East, who finds his way to the foot of the isolated tree where she is held captive by the Phoenix. The Princess here is dressed in the Hindustani peshvaz and dupattah, while the Prince sports a turban in a distinctly Safavid style with the ends of the qamarband always tucked in. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 19r. Noc

Given that both manuscripts discussed here are associated with South Asia, one might be forgiven for taking this as an indication of the tale’s origins, perhaps traceable to some obscure Sufi source of moralistic parables. Evidence to counter this regional association is found in a fragile Judaeo-Persian manuscript from the British Library’s Gaster Collection (Or 10195). Although the fragmentary volume has several compositions in poetry and prose, one of these comprises yet another prose rendition of the same tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh. While the work needs to be studied in detail, it would be particularly revealing if it could be verified that this version commences with or without the prophetic tradition, and whether it consists of the lengthier or abridged version. The systematic comparison of all texts may form the basis of future research to identify a common Urtext, which might not even be in Persian at all. It is hoped this article may mark the start of the process.

Bibliographical note on IO Islamic 1255
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the Late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809, p. 84, where it is listed as the third of the Persian fables. Hermann Ethé, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford, 1903, vol. 1, coll. 544, no. 854. Another undated manuscript (IO Islamic 1627), also from Tipu Sultan’s library, reproduces over ff. 106v-111v an independent work based on a fragment of the same tale comprising episodes 14-28 (Ethé, no. 853).

Dr Sâqib Bâburî
Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project Ccownwork

Acknowledgements
I am grateful to Ursula Sims-Williams for referring me to IO Islamic 1255. I would also like to thank Ilana Tahan and Zsofia Buda for their research and help with Judeo-Persian.

23 December 2016

The Christmas Story: Images from Ethiopic Manuscripts

Add comment

To celebrate Christmas we bring you a selection of images from some of our Ethiopic manuscripts.

Or607_f13v
The Nativity. The Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus in a manger, with Joseph. From the Nagara Māryām, the history and miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 18th century (British Library Or. 607, f.13v)
 noc

The Ethiopic collections in the British Library include about 600 manuscripts which were acquired  from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. The collection is strong in illuminated manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries and also contains, in addition to biblical texts, an important collection of Ethiopian magical and divinatory scrolls. Several catalogues have been published, the details of which are given below.
 
Or481_f100v
Nativity scene (British Library Or. 481, f.100v)
 noc

Or. 481, written in a small elegant character on vellum, dates from the second half of the seventeenth century. It contains the first eight books of the Old Testament (the Octateuch), the four Gospels,  numerous short works on church order, canons of  Ecumenical Councils and other ecclesiastical works. It is decorated with coloured borders and contains many illustrations.

3wisemen
Three Wise Men or  Magi, as described in The Gospel according to St. Matthew (British Library Or. 607, f.14r)
 noc

This illustrated manuscript, Or. 607, is a copy of Nagara Māryām ነገር ማርያም, the history and miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is arranged for the twelve months of the year, and is also popularly known as the Gospel of the Mother or 'called in the Egyptian tongue the Little Gospel'. Written on vellum it was copied for ʼĪyāsū II of Ethiopia who ruled from 1730 to 1755.

Or510_f10r
The flight into Egypt: Mary and Jesus followed by Joseph (British Library Or. 510, f.10v)
 noc

Our third manuscript, Or. 510, beautifully written on vellum in three columns, dates from 1664-65 and was copied in Gondar, Ethiopia, for King John I, ʼAʼlaf Sagad, and his queen, Sabla Wangēl. The manuscript as a whole demonstrates the use of European models for the illustrations which were inspired by those of A. Tempesta, based on Dūrer, in the Arabic Gospels published in Rome in 1590-91. In the process of copying, perspective was eliminated and the presentation simplified.


Further reading
August Dillmann, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur. Pars tertia, codices aethiopicos amplectans. London, 1847.
William Wright, Catalogue of the Ethiopic Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired Since the Year 1847. London, 1877.
Stefan Strelcyn, Catalogue of Ethiopian Manuscripts in the British Library Acquired Since the Year 1877. London, 1978.

Eyob Derillo, Curator Ethiopian Collections
 ccownwork

21 November 2016

Nasir Shah's Book of Delights

Add comment

To celebrate our new series of South Asian seminars and especially the focus on food with Neha Vermani's talk this evening Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal elite I thought I would write about our most ʻfoodyʼ Persian manuscript, the only surviving copy of the Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (Nasir Shah's Book of Delights) written for Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (r.1469-1500) and completed by his son Nasir al-Din Shah (r.1500-1510). We are planning to digitise this manuscript in the near future but meanwhile I hope some of these recipes will whet your appetite.

IO Islamic 149_f4-5r
Recipes for samosas (see below) with illustrations showing cows being milked (right) and Sultan Ghiyas al-Din seated on his throne (left), attended by servants (British Library IO Islamic 149, ff4v-5r)
 noc

This beautifully written and illustrated work was composed for the Sultan of Malwa Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji who ruled from 1469 to 1500. According to the ʻAdilshahi historian Firishtah[1] this colourful ruler shortly after his accession,

...gave a grand entertainment; on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated, that as he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banners of his illustrious father, he now yielded up the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy ease the rest of his days. He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court, and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.

These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trades. 500 female Turks, dressed in men's clothes, stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly, 500 Abyssinian women also in uniform, armed with firearms. This might seem quite an extravagent description but it is confirmed by the paintings and recipes in the book which describe in detail the methods for cooking luxurious savouries and sweetmeats, for preparing medical remedies, for making perfumes[2] and for going on expeditions, whether in battle or hunting.

The Ni’matnāmah is undated and there are many unanswered questions about the format it has today. The first few leaves have been added later and there is no expected author’s introduction. The main work appears to end on folio 161v and then a new section begins on folio 162v which has the title Kitāb-i Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (‘Nasir Shah’s book of delights’). Altogether at least 15 leaves are missing which were extracted at various different times before it was acquired by the East India Company after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799. It seems most likely that the first part of the work at least was written in the latter part of Ghiyas Shah’s reign and then perhaps the second section was added after his son had taken over in 1500. The 50 illustrations demonstrate a fusion of Persian ‘Turkman’ Shiraz influence of the second half of the fifteenth century with a progressively Indic style, especially in the use of colours and the style of the costumes and architecture.

A flavour of the Niʻmatnāmah
We are very fortunate in having a published facsimile (albeit black and white) and translation of the Niʻmatnāmah made over the course of several years by Norah Titley after her retirement from the British Library in 1983. Below I quote her translations alongside some of the illustrations.

A recipe for samosas (ff. 4v-5r, see above)

Mix together well-cooked mince with the same amount of minced onion and chopped dried ginger, a quarter of those, and half a tūlcha [a measure] of ground garlic and having ground three tūlchas of saffron in rosewater, mix it with the mince together with aubergine pulp. Stuff the samosas and fry (them) in ghee. Whether made from thin course flour bread or from fine flour bread or from uncooked dough, any of the three (can be used) for cooking samosas, they are delicious. (Titley, p. 4)

IO Islamic 149_f32r
Preparation of rice water (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.32r)
 noc

A recipe for making broth

Another recipe for the method of  pīchha, namely the surplus water that is removed from the cooking pot after cooking rice and separating it. Put mūng pulse into the water and boil it. Chop fresh sandal and take its juice. Put the myrobalan and cardamoms into it and cook it. Put in salt. When it is cooked add some mint leaves and serve it. (Titley, p. 17)

IO Islamic 149_f66r
Ghiyas Shah watching preparations for sherbert (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.66r)
 noc

A recipe for making sherbet

Another recipe for sherbet: mince coconut and leave it (to soak) in sweetened water. Strain off the coconut milk and, if desired, put the syrup in it and also mangoes if so wished. Then drink it with bhāt and add fresh ginger, onions, lime juice, cardamoms, cloves, pepper, turmeric and fenugreek and flavor it with asafoetida. Then drink it with bhāt [cooked rice or maize]. (Titley, p. 32)

IO Islamic 149_f79v
Ghiyas al-Din watches the process of cooking green vegetables (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.79v)
 noc

A recipe for cooking greens

Another recipe for green vegetables: boil vine greens in dūgh and water. Then take them off, squeeze them well and open them out and fan them. Then having roasted and ground cumin, salt and sesame seeds, add them. (Titley, p.38)

IO Islamic 149_f100v
Ghiyas al-Din eats a betel chew (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.100v)
 noc

On the uses of and recipes for betel

The qualities of that tanbūl are that the teeth are strengthened, diseases of the tongue, lips, gullet, throat and windpipe are prevented, as is inflammation of the chest. All the foregoing diseases are prevented and the intellect is strengthened, the eyes made bright, the quality of hearing is improved, the nose is purified, halitosis is banished and all illnesses are repelled. Hair becomes longer and shinier and is strengthened, broken bones mend and food that is bound up in the stomach is dissolved and digestion of food is assisted. Phlegm is prevented, the stomach is soft and an appetite for food is enhanced and it makes for a life of beauty and chastity. Coarse wind that may be in the stomach is relieved. It is astringent so bile and excess blood are decreased and phlegm is prevented. Blood is purified, ejaculation is delayed, gripes are cured and the stomach is tightened. If it is rubbed on the skin of the body, leprosy is driven away and the colour of the skin is made white and bad odours are prevented. It is the jewel of the mouth, the mouth is purified and the ardour of passion is increased. (Titley, p.50)

This universal panacea is followed by a list of 57 separate ingredients consisting of flowers, herbs, nuts and spices.

IO Islamic 149_f159r IO Isl 149_f111
Left: Ghiyas al-Din on a hunting expedition (IO Islamic 149, f.159r)
Right: perfumes being distilled (IO Islamic 149, f.111v)
 noc


The history of the Niʻmatnāmah
The details of what happened to the Niʻmatnāmah between the time of its completion ca. 1500 and its arrival in London after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799 are far from clear. However there are some facts of which we can be certain. An inscription on folio 196v mentions that the manuscript was inspected on 24 Sha’ban 978 (21 Jan 1571). Unfortunately there isn't any indication of where this was done.

IO Islamic 149_flyleafr
Flyleaf with the abraded circular seal of Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah, r.1627–1657 (British Library IO Islamic 149, f.Ir)
 noc

Another inscription on folio 1r reads: “Niʻmatnamah on the science of medicine in naskh writing, in a red binding, from the possession of Malik Almās, entered the court library on 22 Rab I 1044 (15 Sept 1634)”. A similar inscription, dated eight days later, occurs on the flyleaf (above). These were previously thought to be Mughal inscriptions but the wording is identical to inscriptions used by the ʻAdilshahi librarians. Moreover the large circular seal on the flyleaf can now be identified conclusively as the circular seal of Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah who ruled in Bijapur from 1627-57. The seal itself is not very clear but can be read by comparing it with a better preserved copy on a manuscript from Bijapur. It contains the sajʼ (coin legend in verse):
Dārad az luṭf-i ḥaqq sar afrāzī
Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh ghāzī    
“By the grace of God he has eminence, Sultan Muhammad Shah the conqueror.”

The second smaller seal has so far defied interpretation! However there is no reason to think it is a Mughal seal nor that the manuscript has in fact any Mughal connection at all.

Bijapur 207_f1r_seal
Sultan Muhammad ʻAdil Shah's seal (British Library Bijapur 207, f.1r)

As for the previous owner Malik Almas, there was someone of this name in Golconda who died in 1674. He served as a steward of Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah (r.1580-1612) and in the reign of Sultan ʻAbd Allah (1626-72), he became superintendent of buildings[3]. In 1633 Muhammad ʻAdil Shah married Sultan ʻAbd Allah's sister, Khadija Sultana, so if this the same Malik Almas, a possible scenario might be that the Niʻmatnāmah came to Bijapur from Golconda with Khadija, perhaps as a wedding present?

From Bijapur the manuscript was acquired by Tipu Sultan and came as part of his collection to the Library of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street, London between 1806 and 1808. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any identifiable record of it in the contemporary lists of Tipu's Library (see my earlier blog Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah) nor in the printed catalogue of the collection by Charles Stewart (A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore. Cambridge, 1809).

Further reading
Norah M. Titley, The Niʻmatnāma Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu. London, 2005.
Jeremiah P. Losty, The Art of the Book in India. London, 1982, no. 41.

I am grateful to colleagues Saqib Baburi and Keelan Overton for discussing some of the problems with me.
Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

--------

[1] John Briggs, History of the rise of the Mahomedan power in India, till the year A. D. 1612 / translated from the original Persian of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta, Vol. 4. London: Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1829.
[2] By chance William Dalrymple has just published an article in the Economist's 1843 magazine “Scents and sensuality on ittars and perfumes, particularly mentioning their use in the Niʻmatnāmah.
[3] See SA Bilgrami, Landmarks of the Deccan. Reprinted Delhi, 1992, pp.102-4).

17 November 2016

The Ottoman Turkish Zenanname (ʻBook of Womenʼ)

Add comment

Today's post is from guest contributor and regular visitor to Asian and African Collections, Sunil Sharma, Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature at Boston University

British Library Or.7094 is an illustrated copy of the late Ottoman Turkish poetic work, Fazıl Enderunlu’s Zenanname (ʻBook of Womenʼ), which describes the positive and negative qualities of the women of the world along with satirical and moralistic parts at the end. The text is a poem in mesnevi form that was completed in 1793. I became interested in this work because typologies of women began to appear in Mughal and Safavid poetry and painting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and there was the possibility of doing comparative scholarship across Persianate cultures.

Or7094_f1-2
The opening of the Zenanname by Fazıl Enderunlu (British Library Or.7094, ff.1v-2r)
 noc

The British Library copy of the Zenanname appears to be dated 1107 (1695/96)[1], but this is obviously a mistake since it wasn't completed until almost a century later. Additionally, Norah Titley (see below, pp.39-40), points out that there is a historical anachronism with respect to the earlier date because “the French woman in folio 43r is wearing a costume connected with the French revolution, i.e. post-1793”. The manuscript includes thirty-eight paintings[2], and all but the first and last two depict women of various ethnicities and nationalities. Another almost identical copy of this work is located in Istanbul[3]. The text was printed numerous times in the nineteenth century, albeit without illustrations, and has been fully or partially translated into modern Turkish, French, and English, though none of these are entirely faithful or idiomatic.

Or7094_f43r
French woman in a costume of the French Revolution (British Library Or.7094, f.43r)
 noc

The women in the Zenanname represent every type known to the Ottomans from their empire and beyond. The paintings show women who are from a particular place or part of a community, comprising Indian, Persian, Baghdad, Sudan, Abyssinia, Yemen, Maghrib, Tunisian, Hijaz, Damascus, Syrian, Anatolian, the Aegean Islands, Spanish, Istanbul/Constantinople, Greek Christian, Armenian, Jewish, Gypsy, Albanian, Bosnian, Tatar, Georgian, Circassian, Christian, German, Russian, French, English, Dutch and American (from the New World). Not all of these women are praised by Fazıl, some are lampooned for their sexual behavior or nature in misogynistic terms. In these verses on the Englishwoman, translated by the Ottoman literature scholar E.J.W. Gibb - to whom this manuscript previously belonged -, the poet celebrates the beauty of this type (Gibb, pp. 241-2):

O thou, whose dusky mole is Hindustan,
Whose tresses are the realms of Frankistan!
The English woman is most sweet of face,
Sweet-voiced, sweet-fashioned, and fulfilled of grace.
Her red cheek to the rose doth colour bring,
Her mouth doth teach the nightingale to sing.
They all are pure of spirit and of heart;
And prone are they unto adornment’s art.
What all this pomp of splendor of array!
What all this pageantry their heads display!
Her hidden treasure’s talisman is broke,
Undone, or ever it receiveth stroke.


Or7094_f43-44
Right: an English woman carrying a basket of flowers and wearing a tall green hat, similar in shape to the Welsh national hat
Left: Dutch woman with her hands in a muff, against a snow-covered landscape (British Library Or.7094, ff.43v-44r)
 noc

The Zenanname was actually a companion volume to a work Fazıl Enderunlu composed first, the Hubanname (Book of Beauties), in 1792-93, which is a catalogue of the boys of the world[4]. The text of these works is related to the şehrengiz genre (shahrashub in Persian), although much more sexually explicit. Most şehrengiz poems of this kind described the young lads of a city, but there was at least one Ottoman Turkish poem written in the sixteenth century on women, the prostitutes of Istanbul, by ‘Azizi. The images in the Zenanname, on the other hand, are related to the genre of costume albums produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries[5].

Fazıl Enderunlu, also known as Fazıl Bey, was initially employed at the Ottoman court as a poet but was let go from his position after being implicated in a romantic scandal. He found patrons outside the court for his later works in order to “try to accommodate and gratify the interests and literary tastes of a socially and culturally diverse network of men and women” (Hamade, p. 155). The reception of Fazıl’s works alternated between a great deal of popularity in the nineteenth century to being suppressed at various times.

Or7094_f28v
A woman of Istanbul wearing high pattens (nalın), Rumeli Hisar (?) in background (British Library Or.7094, f.28v)
 noc

Or7094_f44v
A woman of the ʻNew Worldʼ (British Library Or.7094, f.44v)
 noc

Two of the paintings that show groups of women, rather than individuals, are recognizable and they, or their counterparts in the Istanbul copy of the manuscript, have been reproduced quite frequently. Both depict people from the new bourgeois classes who are engaged in various activities in non-courtly spaces. One of these is found on f.7r and is described thus by Titley:

General view of women taking their recreation in a park. Includes one woman smoking, another on a swing, others entertained by musicians (def and fiddle players) who have a monkey. Bostanci wearing blue şalvar and a red barata. Women are wearing entaris and feraces with kuşaks and takkes. Kiosks, water and fountain in the background and a covered ox-cart.

Or7094_f7r.JPG_2000
Women relaxing in a park (British Library Or.7094, f.7r)
 noc

The interest in showing people of different backgrounds and classes “mixing and mingling in the private gardens of the capital” is corroborated by other paintings from this period (Artan & Schick, p.160), and especially “from the last quarter of the sixteenth century onwards, crowded picnic scenes in the countryside show men and women--including some amorous couples--enjoying food, drinks, and music” (p.161). Paintings showing women in a hamam and the male residents of a neighbourhood outside a brothel depict the activities of ordinary people. Unfortunately the hamam scene (f.49r) is now missing from this manuscript[2] but the corresponding scene in the Istanbul manuscript is reproduced quite often in published scholarly works and on the internet as a visual document of Ottoman social history.

Or7094_f51r
Scene outside a brothel at night. Two women looking out of windows. Seventeen men thronging the area outside, two knocking on the doors (British Library Or.7094, f.51r)
 noc

Gibb was not impressed by Fazıl’s poetic skills, but he appreciated the distinctive nature of his work in which, he wrote, “we have not only the revelation of a marked individuality, but the veritable treasury of the folk-lore of the author’s age and country” (Gibb, p.223). The paintings in this manuscript have brought attention to this text, but Fazıl’s works await a detailed study in their proper cultural and historical context. Indeed, there is no literary work quite like it in any courtly Persianate tradition.

I would like to thank Ursula Sims-Williams for her observations on the dating of this manuscript and Sooyong Kim for his insights into the text as a literary work.

Sunil Sharma, Boston University
 ccownwork

Further reading
Walter Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, The Age of Beloveds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
Tülay Artan and Irvin Cemil Schick, “Ottomanizing pornotopia: Changing visual codes in eighteenth-century Ottoman erotic miniatures,” Eros and Sexuality in Islamic Art, ed. Francesca Leoni and Mika Natif. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013, pp. 157-207.
E.J.W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry. Vol. IV, ed. E.G. Browne. London: Luzac & Co, 1905.
Shirin Hamade, The City’s Pleasures: Istanbul in the Eighteenth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
Norah M. Titley, Miniatures from Turkish Manuscripts: A Catalogue and Subject Index of Paintings in the British Library and British Museum. London: British Library, 1981.

--------------------------

[1] Norah Titley actually gives the date as 1190 (1776/77) but that is too early. It looks more like 1107 and must just be a careless mistake, perhaps for 1207.
[2] Originally there were 40 illustrations but two were regrettably stolen some years ago: f.46v: “Birth of a baby in a Christian household” and f.49r: “Scene of women in a hammam.”
[3] T. 5502, Istanbul University Library. Titley notes yet another copy dated 1790, with a single painting of a Jewish woman, in the British Museum, 1946.0209.0.1.
[4] For a painting from this manuscript see Folio from a Hubanname (the Book of the fair) by Fazil-i Enderuni (d. 1810).
[5] For more on this topic, see William Kynan-Wilson: A Turkish Souvenir: The Dryden Album and Anglo-Ottoman Contact.

 

08 November 2016

The Anvar-i Suhayli or 'Lights of Canopus'

Add comment

In tonight’s episode of Treasures of the British Library (Sky Arts, 21.00 Tuesdays), Julia Donaldson, writer and author of The Gruffalo, talks to Dr Muhammad Isa Waley about one of our most engaging Persian manuscripts, a copy of the Anvār-i Suhaylī or ʻLights of Canopusʼ - the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina - which was copied for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27).

Add_18579_f002v
The decorated opening of the Anvār-i Suhaylī, completed in 1610/11 (Add.MS.18579, ff.2-3)
 noc

The Anvār-i Suhaylī, is a 15th century version of a story of two jackals, Kalilah and Dimnah, by the Timurid author Ḥusayn Vāʻiz̤ Kāshifi. It is based on a collection of interrelated fables, mostly about animals, set within a frame story, which became best known in the West as the Fables of Bidpai and was first published in English in 1570 as The Morall Philosophie of Doni.

The fables owe their origin to India where they are best known in Sanskrit as the Panchatantra, but it was largely through the Arabic translation by Ibn al-Muqaffāʻ (died c. 757) that they became so popular in Persian. The story describes how the Sasanian king of Iran, Anushirvan (Khusraw I, r. 531-579), heard of a book treasured by the kings of India which had been compiled from the speech of animals, birds, reptiles and wild beasts. Anushirvan sent his physician Burzuyah on a mission to India to discover the book and Burzuyah returned with a copy which he translated into Middle Persian. The original translation is lost but the stories were re-translated into Arabic and Syriac, and then from Arabic into Persian and other languages.

At the end of the 15th century the Timurid Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqara (r.1469-1506) asked Ḥusayn Vāʻiz̤ Kāshifī to produce another, simplified, version in Persian and it was this which subsequently became the most popular, especially with the Mughal Emperors in India who commissioned several luxurious copies.

Add_ms_18579_f201v
The eloquent crow successfully persuades the assembly of birds not to elect the owl as their leader. Artist: Ḥusayn (Add.MS.18579, f.201v)
 noc

The manuscript featured in Julia Donaldson's programme was created for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and completed in AH 1019 (1610/11) though its 36 miniatures were probably painted earlier while Jahangir, as Prince Salim, held court in Allahabad. The paintings are mostly ascribed to well-known Mughal artists and two are personally dedicated to Prince Salim and dated AH 1013 (1604/5).

As in the story of the Gruffalo, a mouse hero features several times in the Anvār-i Suhaylī (see our blog The Cat and the Rat: a popular Persian fable). To mark the programme we have selected a few of the other stories to illustrate the charm of this ever popular work. This manuscript has now been digitised and you can read the whole work here.

Add_ms_18579_f036r
The story of the young falcon (watching from the rocks) who usurped the position of the king's favourite falcon. This painting is dated AH 1013 (1604/5) and signed by the artist Aqā Muḥammad Riz̤ā who describes himself as the ‘disciple of padshah Salim’ (Add.MS.18579, f.36r)
 noc

Add_ms_18579_f077v
In this illustration to the story of the lion and the hare, the clever hare reports to the ferocious but stupid lion that the reason he was late for his appointment to act as the lion's dinner was because he had been delayed by an even more ferocious lion. The lion asked to be taken to this potential rival and the hare took him to a well. On seeing his own reflexion the lion jumped in and drowned. Artist: Durga (Add.MS.18579, f.77v)
 noc

Add_ms_18579_f087v
The duplicitous jackal Dimnah tricks the ox Shanzabah into thinking that his ally the lion has turned against him and is about to eat him (Add.MS.18579, f.87v)
 noc

Add_ms_18579_f104r
Two sandpipers had built their nest by the sea. When the sea carried their young away they complained to the other birds. Their king, the Simurgh, collected a huge army together and forced the sea to give the young birds back, thereby humiliating him — the moral being that one neglects even the humblest creature at one’s own cost (Add.MS.18579, f.104r)
 noc

Add_ms_18579_f331v
The story of the king of Yemen and his servant who stole a golden dish but was ultimately forgiven. Artist: Aqā Riz̤ā (Add.MS.18579, f.331v)
 noc


Further reading

Eastwick , Edward B. The Anvár-i Suhailí, or the Lights of Canopus: Being the Persian Version of the Fables of Pilpay, or the Book “Kalílah Und Damnah”. Hertford: Austin, 1854.
Wollaston, Arthur N. The Anwár-i-Suhailí; Or, Lights of Canopus, Commonly Known As Kalílah and Damnah. London: W.H. Allen & Co, 1877.
Wilkinson, J. V. S. The lights of Canopus: Anvār i Suhailī. London: The Studio, 1929.
J.P.Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire: Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London: The British Library, 2012, pp. 88-92.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
 ccownwork

 

 

04 November 2016

Jerusalem 1000-1400: Four Gospels in Arabic

Add comment

In a recent post in our Medieval Manuscripts blog (Every People Under Heaven), Cillian O'Hogan wrote about the early 13th century Harley Greek Gospels and the 12th century Melisende Psalter and its ivories which are currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a stunning exhibition Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven. With some 200 exhibits from 60 lenders from all over the world, the exhibition tells the story of Jerusalem, a polyglot city and cultural centre during the Crusades, the rule of the Ayyubids and the Mamluk Empire. In this post I will highlight one of our Arabic loans, Add.MS.11856, a translation of the four Gospels, copied in Palestine in 1336.

Add_11856_f001-2
Double page opening to the Gospel of St. Matthew. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, ff. 1v-2r)
 noc

Add_11856_f2-3_2000
Portrait of St. Matthew followed by the translator's prayer and introduction to the Gospel of St. Matthew. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, ff. 2v-3r)
 noc

Although the Bible may have been translated into Arabic as early as the late seventh century, it was during the eighth and especially the ninth centuries that translations were made under Christian patronage. These were produced in the multilingual monastic communities of Palestine. The earliest surviving dated manuscript of the Gospels in Arabic is dated 859 and is in the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai (Griffith, p. 113). In his 'Abridged List of the Arabic Gospel Manuscripts' Hikmat Kashouh (below, pp. 55-8) lists 18 copies in the British Library collections of which the oldest, Add.MS.14467, dates from the 10th century. Add.MS.11856 is a copy of what became known as the Arabic Vulgate version which, translated from Greek, Syriac and Coptic, developed by the 13th century and remained the standard Arabic version until modern times.

Add_11856_f059r
Opening to the Gospel of St. Mark. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 59r)
 noc

Add_11856_f059v
Portrait of St. Mark. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 59v)
 noc

Our manuscript, Add.MS.11856, was completed on 20 Jumada I AH 737 (25 Dec. 1336) and includes four portraits of the evangelists, a double page illuminated heading at the beginning and three single page headings at the start of the following Gospels. The copyist was Yūsuf ibn Walī al-Dawlah Mīkhāʼīl ibn Faḍl Allāh, the Treasury scribe (kātib al-khizānah). Originating in Palestine, the manuscript had various owners, one being the early Albanian writer and national hero Peter Bogdani (ca. 1630-89), Archbishop of Skopje and alumnus of the Collegio di Propaganda Fide, Rome, to which he subsequently presented it. It was acquired in 1841 by the British Museum as part of the collection of Samuel Butler (1774-1839), Bishop of Lichfield.

Add_11856_f095r
Opening to the Gospel of St. Luke. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 95r)
 noc

Add_11856_f095v
Portrait of St. Luke. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 95v)
 noc

Perhaps the most striking feature of this manuscript is its illumination and decoration which clearly demonstrate the cosmopolitan nature of the community in which it was written. Each Gospel is introduced by a portrait of its author holding a copy of the book, but whereas these portraits are based on Byzantine models, the opening and the introductory leaves to each Gospel are richly decorated in a carpet page design - so called because of its close resemblance to intricately woven carpets - which is in keeping with Qur'ans dating from the Mamluk period. The opening of each Gospel consists of two illuminated bands containing the title above and below while the central panel is filled with an abstract geometrical pattern. Decorative rosettes in the margins complete the design.

Add_11856_f157r_2000
Opening to the Gospel of St. John. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 157r)
 noc

Add_11856_f157v
Portrait of St. John. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 157v)
 noc

The exhibition Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven is open at the Met. until 8 January 2017. If you don't have the opportunity to go in person, there is a detailed catalogue available by the exhibition curators Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb.

This manuscript has now been digitised and will shortly be available on our Digitised Manuscripts site, so watch this space for more details!


Further reading

W. Cureton and C. Rieu, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur. Pars secunda, codices arabicos amplectens. London: British Museum, 1846-71, pp. 11-13.
Barbara Drake Boehm and Melanie Holcomb, Jerusalem, 1000-1400 : every people under heaven. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.
Hikmat Kashouh, The Arabic Versions of the Gospels: the Manuscripts and their Families, Berlin: De Gruyter, c2012.
Sidney H. Griffith, The Bible in Arabic: the Scriptures of the "People of the Book" in the Language of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, c2013.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies, with thanks, for help, to Colin Baker
 CC-BY-SA