THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

51 posts categorized "Exhibitions"

05 February 2018

African Scribes: Manuscript Culture of Ethiopia

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February 6th marks the opening of a new display, “African Scribes: Manuscript Culture of Ethiopia,” in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. It will be the first exhibit to be held at the Library devoted entirely to Ethiopian manuscripts, exploring the culture of a manuscript tradition which extends back to the early centuries of the Christian era.

The Ethiopian collections in the British Library include over 500 manuscripts most of which are written in Ge'ez and were acquired from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. The collection is especially 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. On display is a selection of twelve exhibits chosen to demonstrate the arts of painting and calligraphy besides serving as an introduction to Ethiopian literary traditions.

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Christ, the Virgin Mary, Michael, Gabriel and the Twelve Apostles appearing to St. Takla Haymanot at Easter. From the Life and Acts of St. Takla Haymanot. 18th century (BL Or. 728, ff. 80-81)
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Highlights of the display are:

The Four Gospels

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St. Luke the Evangelist accompanied by two disciples. At his feet are two Abyssinian ground hornbills. Lasta, early 17th century (BL Or. 516, f.100v)
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The four Gospels are the central religious scriptures of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its history to the first century AD, when an Ethiopian court official on pilgrimage to Jerusalem was met on his way back by St. Philip who baptised him (Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40).


The Octateuch, the Four Gospels and other ecclesiastical works

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The adoration of the Magi, 17th century (BL Or. 481, f. 101r)
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Written on parchment in Ge'ez during the second half of the 17th century, this manuscript consists of the first eight books of the Old Testament (Genesis-Ruth), the Gospels and other ecclesiastical works. It is decorated with coloured borders and contains many illustrations. This volume also contains copies of many 14th century deeds of gift and grants of various kings.


Deggwa or Hymnbook

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A portrait of the 13th century St. Takla Haymanot, founder of the monastery of Debra Libanos and one of the most revered saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The priests are depicted in distinguishable turbans, colourful robes and holding crosses and multi-coloured umbrellas (BL Or. 584, f.154v)
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The Deggwa is the liturgical collection of hymns and chants used in the Ethiopian Church. The hymns are arranged according to the calendar and divided by the seasons of the liturgical year. The book also provides the orders of service for various feasts of saints, martyrs, angels, Sundays and festivals such as Antiphonary for the Fast of Lent. The composition of hymns in the Deggwa is attributed to St. Yared of Aksum (505-571 AD).


The Revelation of St. John

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St John in the presence of God. Illuminated manuscript with 126 paintings illustrating the life and death of the apostle St. John. Gondar, Ethiopia 1700-1730 (BL Or. 533, f. 3r)
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The Revelation of St. John of Ephesus is the last book in the New Testament, traditionally called Abuqalamisis in Ethiopian. This copy was composed at the beginning of the eighteenth century for King ʻlyasu I (r. 1682–1706) and Queen Walatta Giyorgis. This volume is an exceptional example of Ethiopian art containing 126 paintings. This painting was inspired by a series of woodcuts depicting the Apocalypse by the 16th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer.


Carry case for a Psalter

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Leather bag containing a manuscript Psalter (BL Or.9036)
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The Psalter is one of the most frequently copied texts. Used as a daily prayer-book in religious ceremonies, it needed to be portable. This example is preserved with its traditional carry case.


Copper gilt cover of the Life and Acts of St. Takla Haymanot

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Front cover of the Life and Acts of St. Takla Haymanot, one of the most revered saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. 18th century (BL Or. 728)
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This manuscript was copied during the reign of king ‘Iyasu II (r. 1730-55) and, like the majority of Ethiopian manuscripts in the British Library, has retained its original binding. This is the only known example, however, of a copper gilt cover, comprising carvings of figures and of the cross.

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Our Ethiopian manuscripts are being digitised as we write as part of Heritage made Digital. This is one of the Library’s five main focuses for the coming years and for the first time, the British Library has allocated a part of its government grant towards digitisation. During the next two years we aim to digitise some 250 manuscripts from the Ethiopian collection. The first 25 manuscripts are already available online. We’ll be writing more about Ethiopian manuscripts as they go live so follow us on Twitter @BLAsia_Africa and watch this space to keep in touch!

Eyob Derillo, Cataloguer, Ethiopian Manuscripts Digitisation Project
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04 December 2017

Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017

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Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017  is a special exhibition at the Science Museum, commemorating 70 years of Independence and is part of the British Council's UK-India Year of Culture. This ambitious survey documents the use of photography in the subcontinent and how it portrayed as well as perceived pivotal events in history including the Mutiny of 1857 and Partition and Independence in 1947. The exhibition is arranged in 6 sections: ‘The Mutiny’, ‘Photography, Power and Performance’, ‘Early Colour’, ‘Independence and Partition’, ‘Modern India’ and ‘Contemporary’. The exhibition is drawn from multiple collections, notably the British Library and the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, as well as works from contemporary photographers including  Vasantha Yogananthan and Sohrab Hura. The British Library has lent 15 individual photographs and albums which are featured in the first two sections of the exhibition. A few of the highlights are discussed in this blog post.

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Felice Beato, Panorama of Lucknow, BL Photo 1138(1)   noc

Felice Beato's six part panorama of Lucknow, one of the principal sites of the atrocities of the Mutiny, is featured in the start of the exhibition.  Beato, a war photographer, went to India to document the aftermath of the Mutiny and arrived in Lucknow in March 1858. He photographed many of the destroyed buildings including the Sikandra Bagh, a poignant photo that featured the remains of Indian soldiers in the foreground. Beato also photographed several panoramic views of the city, including this one picturing the courtyard of the Kaisarbagh from the Roshan-ud-Daula Kothi. This once magnificent palace complex was only completed in 1852 just a few years before the uprisings, for local ruler Wajid Ali Shah. The Kaisarbagh was designed by Ahmad Ali Khan, an architect who would learn about photographic process from a British solider and be appointed as the official court photographer.  

Khan learned to produce both daguerreotypes and photographic prints. His photographs are well documented in the British Library's collection.  One of the earliest photographs featured in the exhibition and from our collection includes a portrait of Nawab Raj Begum Sahibah of Oudh, the daughter of the King Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh, taken in c. 1855. Khan obtained permission from the King to take portraits of his wide and the ladies of the court (Gordon 2010, 148-9). The Library’s collection also includes Ahmad Ali Khan’s portrait of the King of Oudh and his wife (BL Photo 500). 

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Nawab Raj Begum Sahibah of Oudh, the daughter of the King Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh, by Ahmad Ali Khan, c. 1855. BL Photo 500(3)  noc

The exhibition features works by both commercial photographers, Indian and British, as well as amateur photographers. In regards to the Mutiny, two works by Major Robert Christopher Tytler and his wife Harriet are featured in this section. Tytler was in the Bengal Army and both he and his wife were in Delhi during the siege. He learned the art of photography and printing from both Felice Beato and John Murray in 1858. They took more than 500 photographs of sites associated with the Mutiny. In Lucknow they photographed the Macchi Bhavan, a fortress that would ultimately disappear by the 1890s, and the decaying splendour of the Chaulakhi gateway into the Kaiserbagh palace. 


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Palace of Shuja ud-Daula at Lucknow (left) with the mosque of Aurangzeb in the far distance by Robert and Harriet Tytler, 1858. BL Photo 193(14)  noc

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[View of the principal gateway into the Kaiserbagh, Lucknow.] by Robert and Harriet Tytler, 1858. BL Photo 193(22)  noc

The exhibition also features works by John Murray, documenting the sites of Cawnpore and Delhi in the aftermath of the Mutiny, including the Sutter Ghat or the Sati Chaura Ghat, where there was a major massacre of Europeans who attempted to flee down river by boats to Allahabad and were shot by sepoys on 27 June 1857. The final and perhaps one of the most iconic images from our collection, that of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, awaiting trail in 1858, before he was sent to exile in Burma, is featured in this section. 

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The Ex-King of Delhi [Bahadur Shah II] by Robert Tytler and Charles Shepherd, 1858. BL Photo 797(37)  noc

In the second section, 'Photography, Power and Performance', photographs from the British Library document the imperial grandeur of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon's tours of India in 1899 and 1902. Our presentation album, 'HE Lord Curzon's first tour in India, 1899' includes photographs of visits, receptions and ceremonies at Delhi, Bombay, Bhopal, Sanchi, Gwalior, Agra, Sikandra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Vrindavan, Kanpur, Lucknow and Varanasi. Included on display are the iconic images of Lord and hunting tigers and their trophies.

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'First tiger shot by HE Lord Curzon in India, Gwalior' by Lala Deen Dayal from the album HE Lord Curzon's first tour in India, 1899. BL  Photo 430/17(33) noc

The exhibition also features a section the use of photography as a medium to document anthropology and ethnography as demonstrated through the J. Forbes Watson's The People of India (an eight volume study rooted in imperialist ideology) and William Johnson, The Oriental Races and Tribes, Residents and Visitors of Bombay, 1863.

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Full-length seated portrait of Shah Jahan Begum (1858-1930), daughter of Sikander Begum and herself Begum of Bhopal 1901-26. BL Photo 355/9(33) - also published in The People of India, by James Waterhouse, 1862.  noc

 

Additional photographs on loan to the Science Museum include:

An illustrated historical album of the Rajas and Taaluqdars of Oudh (Allahabad, 1880), compiled and illustrated by Darogah Haji Abbas Ali, Government Pensioner, late Municipal Engineer, BL Photo 987.

The Lucknow album (Calcutta, 1874), compiled and photographed by Darogha Abbas Ali, BL Photo 988. 

Shikar party [Lord Curzon and party posed with dead tiger beneath shooting platform near Nekonda, Warangal District, Hyderabad] by Lala Deen Dayal, April 1902. BL Photo 556/3(67)

Their Excellencies on jhoola [Lord Curzon taking aim from a shooting platform in a tree, near Nekonda, Warangal District, Hyderabad] by Lala Deen Dayal, April 1902. BL  Photo 556/3(65)

 

Further reading:

India: pioneering photographers 1850-1900, by John Falconer (London, 2001)

India through the lens. Photography 1840-1911, edited by Vidya Dehejia, ( Washington DC, 2000)

The coming of photography in India, by Christopher Pinney (London 2008)

Traces of India: photography, architecture, and the politics of representation, 1850-1900, edited by Maria Antonella Pelizzari (Montreal, 2003)

Lucknow: City of Illusion, ed. Rosie Llewllyn-Jones (Delhi, 2008)  

'A sacred interest: the role of photography in the city of mourning' by Sophie Gordon in India's fabled city, the art of courtly Lucknow (Los Angeles, 2010)

 

Malini Roy

Visual Arts Curator 

 

28 July 2017

Children of Sir John Spencer Login in Lucknow in 1846

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Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, the joint Library of Birmingham and British Library exhibition exploring Britain's enduring connections with South Asia opened on July 15th. Featured in the exhibition is a rather lovely portrait of the children of Sir John Spencer Login (1809-63)  with their ayah (governess) painted in Lucknow, India in 1846.

Login and his family's lives changed in the aftermath of the Anglo-Sikh war and annexation of the Punjab by the British, when he was appointed as the legal guardian of the ten-year-old Maharaja Duleep Singh in Lahore in April 1849.

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'Maharaja Dhulip Sing', plate 1 from Recollections of India. Part 1. British India and the Punjab by James Duffield Harding (1797-1863) after Charles Stewart Hardinge (1822-1894), 1847. British Library, X738/1(1).   noc

Login was born in Stromness, Orkney in Scotland and trained at the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh. After arriving in India in 1836, he obtained the position of surgeon to the 1st Brigade Horse Artillery and served under Sir Charles Metcalfe in Agra. In 1838, he was transferred to Lucknow where he was appointed as the Residency Surgeon and Postmaster General. It was in Lucknow that he met his future wife Lena Campbell, whom he married in 1842.

A rarity in the British Library’s collection is this rather lovely miniature painting on ivory, featuring the young children of John and his wife Lena who were born in Lucknow. Riding astride on the rocking horse and dressed in a tartan kilt is the eldest son Edward William Spencer Login (b.1843). Standing in a blue dress and missing a shoe is Lena Margaret Campbell Login (b. 1845). In the arms of their ayah is Louisa Marion d’Arcy Login (b. 1846). Standing off-centre is an Indian playmate. Painted by an unnamed Indian artist, it was completed a few months after the birth of Louisa.

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The Children of Sir John Spencer Login in Lucknow by an unnamed Indian artist, 1846. British Library, Add Or 5639.  noc

Lena Login’s published account Lady Login’s Recollections reflects on her life in Lucknow and her interactions with the women of the royal family of Awadh.  She wrote, ‘Indeed, Malika Geytee, the King’s favourite wife, treated me always as an intimate friend, and all the Princesses made a point of presenting me, on the birth of each of my children, as a sign of personal regard with a complete outfit of native dress for myself and the newcomer, of their own handiwork, gorgeously embroidered in gold and silver bullion’. Lena Login learned to speak Urdu and regularly assisted her husband to treat the women in the zenana that she could see first-hand and report symptoms back to Dr Login. As Login declined accepting payment for treating the local Nawabs, the family often received rather extravagant presents including a carriage ‘lined in satin and gold’ with ‘horses [that were] enormous milk white creatures with pink noses and tails of brilliant scarlet’. The children were sent baby elephants as well as ‘two huge Persian cats, more like leopards’.

After the departure of Lena and their children from India back to England, John Login fought in the second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49). In the aftermath, the British appointed Login as the guardian to the young ruler Duleep Singh. The Maharaja, only a few years older than Edward William Spencer Login, would remain under the care of the Login family until he was 19. They travelled from Lahore to Fatehgargh and ultimately Duleep Singh was permitted to travel to England in 1854. Invited to court, he developed a close relationship with Queen Victoria and her family. For the next several years, he remained with the Login family at Castle Menzies in Scotland. While visual evidence of his early years in England is primarily limited to formal portraits commissioned by Queen Victoria and her own sketches, an informal group portrait picturing the Maharaja with the Login children amongst other party goers at Castle Menzies taken in 1855 appeared at auction just a few years ago. It would be interesting to know if other visual representations of the young Maharaja and his adopted family have been identified and can be explored in a future blog post.

The painting of the children of John Spencer Login is currently on display at the Library of Birmingham in the exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage from 15 July – 4 November 2017.

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Further reading:

Edith Dalhousie Login, Lady Login's recollections : court life and camp life, 1820-1904, London, 1916. 

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator

 

24 July 2017

Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts

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The Southeast Asia exhibition case outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras is currently showing a selection of images of animals in manuscripts from Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The delightful depictions of animals can be appreciated as exquisite works of art, but certain animals were also important as religious, political and cultural symbols in Southeast Asian societies, none more so than elephants.

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Animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts, on display in 2017.

In pride of place on the top shelf is a 19th-century Burmese folding book or parabaik (MSS Burmese 204) containing 22 coloured illustrations of elephants, showing the elephant king Chaddanta, who was the Bodhisatta or previous incarnation of Gautama Buddha, and his queen Mahathubadda. In Burma white elephants are regarded as sacred and a source of blessings, as they play a major role in Buddhist tales. In the story of the ‘Life of the Buddha’, Queen Maya dreamed that a celestial white elephant holding a white lotus flower in its trunk entered her side, to be reborn as Gautama Buddha, while in the last Birth Story of the Buddha, Vessantara Jataka, the white elephant appears as a rain maker. Every Burmese king longed to possess a white elephant, a symbol of power and sovereignty.

Next to the Burmese book is a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma dated 1805 (MSS Jav 68), which is shown open at a scene (identified by Lydia Kieven) where Sekartaji and her servant (emban) approach the forest filled with animals including an elephant, tiger, banteng, wild boar and two deer. This tale is one of many versions of the adventures of Prince Panji in his search for his beloved Princess Candrakirana. Stories of Prince Panji date back to the 13th century, and mark the beginnings of a truly Javanese literature no longer overshadowed by the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Panji tales are found not only in Java but were also translated into Malay, Balinese, Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese.

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Drawings of forest animals in a Javanese manuscript of Serat Panji Jaya Kusuma, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, f. 42r.

On the lower shelf is a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924, adorned on the back with a gilded turtle (Or 14632). The turtle (rùa) has a special place in Vietnamese culture and history. It symbolises longevity, strength and intelligence and is also closely related to the independence of Vietnam. Legend has it that Lê Lời, who led the Vietnamese fight against Chinese invaders in the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the dragon king. After the defeat of the Chinese, the sacred sword was returned to the king by a turtle which lived in a jade water lake. At the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) in Hà Nội, 82 stone turtles carry on their backs steles inscribed with the names of scholars, signifying the importance of education in society.

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Turtle, on the back of a Vietnamese royal edict issued by Emperor Khải Định on 25 July 1924. British Library, Or. 14632.

The final item in the case is a 19th-century Thai Phrommachat or horoscope manual in folding book format (Or. 13650). The twelve-year Chinese zodiac cycle was widely used in Thailand, and the manual contains coloured drawings depicting the zodiac in two series, together with detailed explanations for fortune telling and divination. 2017 is the year of the Rooster, and on display are drawings related to this year, with each rooster shown representing one particular quarter of the year. There is also a number diagram for people born in the year of the rooster, and the male avatar and plant for this year. These are accompanied by drawings used for predicting the future and to explain dreams and omens.

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Thai horoscope manual, open at the page for the year of the Rooster (the present year, 2017). British Library, Or. 13650, f.5v

Or. 13650 has been fully digitised, and shown below are some other pages from this beautiful manuscript, which can be accessed through the hyperlinks beneath the images.

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Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 11v

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Thai horoscope manual. British Library, Or. 13650, f. 13r

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma & Sud Chonchirdsin, Southeast Asia section

Other blog posts about animals in Southeast Asian manuscripts:

Elephants, kingship and warfare in Southeast Asia, by Sud Chonchirdsin

Elephants in all shapes and sizes

The year of the Rooster, from a Thai perspective, by Jana Igunma

O graceful fawn, o gentle doe: deer in Thai manuscript art, by Jana Igunma

What's my Thai horoscope? by Jana Igunma

12 June 2017

Portraits of Dara Shikoh in the Treasures Gallery

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Visitors to the Treasures Gallery at the British Library may notice that the display of Dara Shikoh album pages have changed. On exhibition are eight folios from the Dara Shikoh Album (Add.Or.3129), one of the great treasures of the Asian and African department. The album was compiled by Prince Dara Shikoh (1615–59), the eldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and presented as a gift to his wife Nadira Banu Begum in 1646-47, whom he married in 1633. A new selection went into the gallery at the end of May in time for the Jaipur Literature Festival. You can find these in the Arts of the Book section near the entrance to the Magna Carta. For information on the previous display, please read our blog post on 'New Display of Dara Shikoh Album'.

The album contains seventy-four folios with sixty-eight paintings interspersed with calligraphy and gilt tooled leather covers.  Inside the album, paintings are arranged in facing pairs alternating with facing pages of calligraphy. The album features eighteen portraits of Dara Shikoh, portraits of princes and notable women of the court, holy men, and studies of natural history subjects. 

In this new display, visitors can view a set of facing portraits of Dara Shikoh as a teenager, approximately 15-18 years of age. This complementary set  features the prince standing against blossoming shrubs. He is dressed in fine white muslin garment worn over vivid coloured trousers. In both studies, he is adorned in necklaces composed of enormous pearls, jewelled bracelets and earrings. On the portrait to the right, he holds a gold tray containing two loose pearls and a red spinel.

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Portraits of Prince Dara Shikoh, unknown artists, Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1630-33. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.36 and f.35v.

The second pair of portraits features women at the Mughal court. This includes an unidentified beauty of the court and a  portrait of Dara Shikoh’s elder sister Jahanara who was an influential political figure and profoundly spiritual. She wrote ‘The Confidant of Spirits’, a biography of the Sufi saint Mu’in al-Din Chishti in 1640.

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[Left] A lady of the court, by an unknown artist from Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1630-33. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.14. [Right] Princess Jahanara aged 18, attributed to Lalchand, Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1632. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.13v. 

The remaining four works on display were not intended as pairs, but are representative works from the album. This includes a study of two pigeons perched beside a portable dovecote, a pink crown imperial lily (one of eighteen floral studies in the album), a calligraphic exercise by Muhammad Husain al-Kashmiri who was one of the most eminent calligraphers during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (1555-1605), and an engraving of the Virgin and Child by either a Dutch or Italian artist from the 16th or 17th century.

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[Left] Two pigeons. [Right] A pink lily, artists unknown, Agra or Burhanpur, India, 1630-33. Calligraphic exercise by Muhammad Husain al-Kashmiri, northern India, c. 1590; flowers added, c. 1630. British Library, Add Or 3129, f. 31v, f.62, and f.40v.

For our audience and readers unfamiliar with the history of Mughal art, the European engraving pasted onto a Mughal album page may appear to be unconventional or even eccentric. In this album, the facing page too features western prints picturing St. Catherine of Sienna by Antonia Caranzano and a print of St. Margaret pasted into a Mughal album page.  Artists at the Mughal court were in fact exposed to European engravings, specifically Christian iconography, through Jesuit missionaries who visited the court of Emperor Akbar from 1580 onwards. Mughal artists were commissioned by Akbar and his son Jahangir to illustrate scenes on the life of Christ. While Mughal interpretations of Christian themes and studies of foreign visitors appear in albums, the original prints that inspired such works are more uncommon.

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Engraving of the Virgin and Child by a Dutch or Italian artist, 16th or 17th century, British Library, Add Or 3129, f.42v


Further reading:

Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981
Inayat Khan, The Shah Jahan Nama of ‘Inayat Khan, trans. A.R. Fuller, ed. W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1990  
Losty, J.P., ‘Dating the Dara Shikoh Album: the Floral Evidence’, in Ebba Koch and Ali Anooshahr, eds., The Mughal Empire under Shah Jahan (1628-58) – New trends of research, forthcoming
Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012
Losty, J.P., 'Mughal flower studies and their European inspiration', Asian and African Studies Blog, 14 March 2014.
Sims-Williams, Ursula, 'Princess Jahanara's biography of a Sufi saint', Asian and African Studies Blog, 01 February 2013.

 

03 April 2017

On display in the Treasures Gallery: Humayun’s meeting with Shah Tahmasp

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In conjunction with the British Library’s Learning Team we recently held a very successful study day:  Mughal India: Art and Culture. To coincide with the event we have installed three new ʻMughalʼ manuscripts in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. These are: A Royal copy of Nizami’s ‘Five poems’, dating from Herat, ca.1494 (Or. 6810, f. 3r), A mother rebukes her arrogant son, a copy of Saʻdi’s Būstān dated at Agra, 1629 (Add. 27262, f. 145r) and, the subject of my post today, Humayun received by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp of Iran, from Abu’l-Fazl’s Akbarnāmah, dating from Agra, ca. 1602-3 (Or. 12988, f. 98r). All these manuscripts have been digitised and can be seen by following the hyperlinks.

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The Mughal Emperor Humayun's meeting with Shah Tahmasp of Iran in 1544 by the artist Sanvala, 1602-3. Note what are probably the painter's instructions partially covered in the lower margin (British Library Or. 12988, f. 98r)  noc

The manuscript on display is the first of a three-part imperial set (Losty and Roy, pp. 58-70) of the Akbarnāmah ‘History of Akbar’, an official history written by the court historian Abu’l-Fazl.  This volume describes the reigns of Akbar’s predecessors and his childhood and contains 39 paintings ascribed to major artists of the imperial court. The copyist was the famous  calligrapher Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri[1]. A second volume of the same set is preserved in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Indian Ms 3, see Leach, pp. 232-300). The painting is ascribed to the artist Sanvala and depicts the two monarchs meeting in July 1544. The setting, in a luxuriously furbished tent, includes a backdrop of distant snow-clad mountains, verdant pastures and a medieval city. Quoted above the painting are some typically bombastic verses by the Safavid poet Mirza Qasim Gunabadi [2] (Abu’l-Fazl, p. 81, Thackston's tanslation):

Two Lords of Conjunction meeting at one assembly like the sun and the moon,
Two lights of vision for the eye of fortune,
 two blessed holidays for the month and year,

Two stars with which the firmament is adorned, together in one place like the Farqadain[3],
Two world eyes, rein to rein, bending toward each other like two eyebrows,

One constellation the location for two lucky stars in the firmament, one casket the place for two exalted pearls.

In 1530, the Mughal Emperor Humayun inherited an empire that was far from consolidated and after his decisive defeat by Sher Shah Suri at the battle of Kannauj in 1540 he was forced to retreat. He spent the next three years attempting to regain his position in Sindh during which he met and married Hamida Banu who gave birth to Akbar at Umarcot on 15 Oct 1542. Unsuccessful in Sindh and at the same time thwarted in his attempt to retreat to Kandahar he decided late in 1543 to seek the protection of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–1576), leaving the 15 month old Akbar behind with his relatives.

Humayun’s stay in Safavid Iran is described by Abu’l-Fazl in glowing terms almost as if it were a recommendation for TripAdvisor. Shah Tahmasp couldn't have been more delighted to host Humayun's visit and ordered drums to be beaten in celebration for three days in his capital Qazvin. Incredibly detailed instructions for Humayun's reception were sent to the Governor of Herat which included marmalades of Mashhad apples to be served after sherbet prepared with lemon syrup and chilled with ice and snow. Once the visitors reached Mashhad and were joined by the Shah’s amirs, 1,200 different dishes of food fit for a king were to be served at each meal!

After Noruz at Herat and much successful sightseeing, Humayun caught up with the Royal Camp between Abhar and Sultaniya and met the Shah in July 1544 in a ʻlofty palace, on which painters had long been at work executing marvels of their craftʼ (Abu’l-Fazl, p. 79). Princely celebrations were held daily and gifts exchanged. After several days the royal party moved on to Sultaniya where a hunt was organised. This was followed by two more hunting parties at the end of which Humayun was sent on his return journey accompanied by the Shah's son Prince Murad, 12,000 horsemen and 300 arms bearers from the Shah's own bodyguard.

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Humayun and Shah Tahmasp hunting at Sultaniya. Principle portraits by Narsingh, remainder by Ganga Sen (British Library Or. 12988, f. 103r)  noc

Apart from a brief moment of tension alluded to by Abu’l-Fazl in just two short sentences, it would seem that relations between the two rulers could not have been better. However a quite different impression is given in Tazkirat al-vāqi‘āt ‘Memoir of Events’, by Jawhar Aftabchi, Humayun's personal ewer-bearer, who accompanied Humayun in exile to Iran and during his subsequent struggle to regain the throne. Unlike the Akbarnamah which was an official chronicle of Akbar's reign, Jawhar’s account is a much more detailed record of events and to judge from his own references, he was always close to the Emperor and was therefore present at important conversations.

One of the first things Tahmasp asked Humayun, according to Jawhar, was whether he was willing to wear the tāj (the typical Safavid batonned headdress). He was happy to agree to this but the next day he was ordered to convert to Shiʻa Islam (Thackston, p.122):

Firewood had been gathered for an entertainment for the emperor. The shah sent a message, saying, ʻIf you embrace our religion, we will support you. Otherwise, we wonʼt. We will set fire to all the people of your religion with this kindling and burn you up!ʼ

As a staunch Sunni, Humayun initially refused but eventually agreed under duress, at least temporarily, and continued to enjoy his host’s generous hospitality. However Tahmasp had not apparently given up the idea of killing Humayun. On hearing his planned treachery Tahmasp's sister burst into tears. When he asked her why, she replied (Thackston, p. 126):

‘... you have enemies in all four directions: Ottomans, Uzbeks, Circassians, and Franks. It has been heard that Muhammad Humayun Padishah has a son and brothers. What will be gained by harming him? If you cannot have compassion on him and help to elevate and assist him, give him leave to go wherever he can.’ The shah listened to this. Immediately he cheered up and said, ‘All my amirs have been giving me their foolish advice, but none is better than what you have said.’

Another example of a situation saved by a woman!

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Passage from a copy dated 1610 of Jawhar's Tazkirat showing the passage describing Shah Tahmasp's proposed treachery with a marginal comment by the Safavid prince Sultan Muhammad Mirza (see below). The pencilled annotations are probably by Charles Stewart who published a translation of this manuscript in 1832 (British Library Add. 16711, f. 76r)  noc

An interesting postscript to this story is told us by Charles Stewart who was lent this manuscript (Add. 16711) by his friend William Yule from whose estate it was acquired by the British Museum in 1847. Yule had suggested that he should publish a translation. He writes (Stewart, p. 70):

About the time that Major Yule procured this MS. there was a descendant of the Seffy family residing at Lucknow, who received a small pension from the Nuwab Assuf addowleh, and bore the title of Persian Prince. Major Yule having lent him the MS. he wrote on the margin at this passage [over Tahmasp's contemplated treachery, f.76r], ʻThe author has here been guilty of falsehood, or he must have been deranged, as this circumstance has never been mentioned by any other historian.ʼ

The Safavid prince concerned was Abu'l-Fath Sultan Muhammad Mirza Bahadur Khan Safavi, a son of  Shah Sultan Husayn II, who lived as a pensioner in Lucknow from 1793 or 4 until his death in 1816 or 17.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
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Further reading
J.P. Losty, and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012
Linda York Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, vol.1. London, 1995
Abu'l-Fazl, The History of Akbar, vol. 2; edited and translated by Wheeler Thackston. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016
Three Memoirs of Homayun; edited and translated by Wheeler Thackston. Costa Mesa, 2009
Charles Stewart, The Tezkereh al Vakiāt; or, Private Memoirs of the Moghul Emperor Humāyūn. London, 1832

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[1] The manuscript has no colophon but a damaged and over-pasted note by the Emperor Jahangir on f.1r mentions ʻthe musk-like string of pearls of …[cut off]…. Kashmiriʼ, which must surely refer to Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri zarrin-qalam. I thank S. Baburi for his help with this inscription.
[2] Author of a poetical history of Shah Ismaʻil Safavi. For more on him see C. Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol. 2 (London, 1881), pp. 660-1.
[3] The two inseparable stars in Ursa minor.

04 November 2016

Jerusalem 1000-1400: Four Gospels in Arabic

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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.

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

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

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

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Opening to the Gospel of St. John. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 157r)
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Portrait of St. John. Palestine, 1336 (BL Add.MS.11856, f. 157v)
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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
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04 August 2016

New display of Dara Shikoh Album in Treasures Gallery

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Regular visitors to the Treasures Gallery of the British Library will know that the wall case displaying Indian book arts has recently had a change of display. On exhibition are eight folios from the Dara Shikoh Album (Add.Or.3129), one of the great treasures of the Asian and African department, which are discussed in this blog. The album is known to have been compiled by Dara Shikoh (1615–59), the eldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, from the inscription in the prince’s hand on folio 2 dated 1056/1646–47. The inscription records the gift of the album to his wife Nadira Banu Begam, his cousin and the daughter of Sultan Parviz, whom he had married in 1633.

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Dedicatory inscription written by Dara Shikoh, dated 1056/1646-7 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.2r)
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The inscription reads: īn muraqqa‘-i nafīs ba-anīs-i khāṣṣ u hamdam u hamrāz ba-ikhtiṣāṣ Nādirah Bānū Bēgam dādah [shud az] Muḥammad Dārā Shikōh ibn Shāh Jahān pādshāh-i ghāzī sannah 1056 (‘This precious volume was given to his dearest intimate friend Nadira Banu Begam by Muhammad Dara Shikoh son of Shah Jahan emperor and victor, year 1056/1646–47’).

The previously accepted date of the inscription 1051/1641-2 has been revised by John Seyller, who has suggested a date of 1056/1646-7 on the basis of enhanced digital imagery (click here to see enhanced photo), and this revised date is accepted here. For a list of the contents of the album see Falk and Archer (Indian Miniatures, no. 68) who date it 1633–42 and Catalogue of India Office Select Materials. Only two dates are inscribed which can definitely be assigned to the period before Dara Shikoh's death, one on a painting by Muhammad Khan dated 1043/1633-34, the other in the previously mentioned dedicatory inscription.

After the fratricidal war precipitated by Shah Jahan’s illness in 1657, Dara Shikoh was executed by the victorious Aurangzeb in 1659, a few months after his wife had died while attempting to flee with her husband to Iran. The album came into the possession of Aurangzeb and attempts were made to blot out the memory of ‘the apostate’, as his rigidly orthodox brother regarded him. The inscription was obliterated with gold paint which has since worn away, allowing Dara Shikoh’s writing to reappear. After Dara’s death, the album was handed over to Pariwash, librarian to the Nawab ‘Aliyyah, on 21 Rajab, regnal year 3 (of Aurangzeb, i.e. 1661), according to the inscription on folio 1r. The title Nawab ‘Aliyyah, previously borne by Mumtaz Mahal herself, was awarded after the death of her mother to Shah Jahan’s eldest daughter and favourite Jahanara (1614-80), who became the Nawab ‘Aliyyah Padshah Begum Sahibah (Inayat Khan, Shah Jahan Nama, p. 3), as discussed in my forthcoming paper (Losty, ‘Dating the Dara Shikoh Album’).

The seventy-four folios with sixty-eight paintings interspersed with calligraphy and the gilt tooled leather covers represent the album almost in its entirety.  Five leaves are missing according to an early foliation, which may have included Dara Shikoh’s own calligraphy or other pages with inscriptions relating to him.

In the book accompanying the British Library’s 2012 exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, the present writer argued that the contents of the album, containing portraits of teenage princes and princesses, would most naturally fit into the time frame 1631-33 when Dara Shikoh was 16-18, between his engagement to his cousin, the postponement of the marriage owing to the death of his mother Mumtaz Mahal in 1631, and the eventual celebration of the nuptials in 1633 (Losty and Roy, Mughal India, pp. 124-37).  There is no need to argue, as almost all previous writers have done, that the contents of the album must be dated between the two inscribed dates of 1633 and 1642 (now 1647).

The paintings are arranged in facing pairs, as was normal in Mughal albums. The contents mostly consist of portraits of the aformentioned teenage princes and princesses, of holy men of various sorts, and studies of flowers and of birds. Ths inner album borders normally match, except where a folio is missing, and the outer borders all bear floral designs in gold. The paintings are all fairly simple and have sometimes been criticised for not matching the quality of the albums associated with the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan, but then as a princely album it would have been inappropiate to do so, any more than do the Salim and Khurram albums, compiled by the future emperors when princes.

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Right: A prince pouring wine, ascribed to Muhammad Khan and dated 1043/1633-4 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.21v)
Left: a prince holding a turban ornament, attributed to Muhammad Khan, c. 1633 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.22r)
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The otherwise uknown artist Muhammad Khan signed and dated one painting in the album of a prince dressed in Persian costume and its facing pair of a similarly dressed prince with an attendant can safely be attributed to the same hand. They are linked by similar backgrounds and by a frieze of exquisitely detailed flowers across the bottoms of the paintings. Despite their Persianate appearance, these paintings are not Persian, but nothing is known of Muhammad Khan’s origin or his other work. He is possibly a Deccani artist employed by the prince 1630-32 when the court was in Burhanpur and who returned to Agra with him. Some of the flower studies in the album can also be attributed to his hand.

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Right: Dara Shikoh with a jewel, attributed to Chitarman, c. 1630 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.27v)
Left: lady with a wine cup, attributed to Bichitr, 1630-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.28r)
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It was argued in the 2012 book that most of the princely portraits in the album were in fact of the young Dara Shikoh between the ages of 15 and 18 and also that while the court was in Burhanpur the prince had access to his father’s artists. Certainly Chitarman was in Shah Jahan’s employ in 1628 (his portrait is in the Kevorkian Album in the Metropolitan Museum, New York) before becoming associated with Dara Shikoh throughout the 1630s. These two portraits obviously form a pair and the young prince is holding up a sumptous jewelled pendant, a heart-shaped ruby or spinel surrounded by pearls and with a large pendant pearl, for presentation to the lady opposite. She is unknown of course, but was important enough to be painted in the latest style that is associated with the artist Bichitr around 1630, with its receding European landscape in grisaille as a backdrop, as in Bichitr's portrait of Asaf Khan from 1631 in the V&A.

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Right: Dara Shikoh with a tutor, attributed to Chitarman, c. 1630 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.33v)
Left: Lady with a narcissus, perhaps Mumtaz Mahal, attributed to Bishndas, 1631-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.34r)
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This pair of paintings, although now facing each other, cannot have been originally intended to do so since the inner borders do not match, although there is no break in the early foliation. The young prince seems to be about 12 from his size although somewhat older judging by his features. He holds out his hand to his tutor who seems to be about to hand him the book. The lightly painted drawing is typical of Chitarman’s work for the prince. The lady opposite, somewhat more mature than the majority of the female portraits in the album, wears jewels of imperial quality and stands with one hand on a prunus tree and the other holding a narcissus. That and the white narcissus growing before her, white being associated with mourning, suggest that this could be Dara Shikoh’s mother Mumtaz Mahal (b. 1593), who died in Burhanpur in 1631 giving birth to her 14th child. The unrelated borders suggest a possible intervention by the prince, who rearranged the order of the folios in order for his mother to cast her benevolent gaze over his studies. The handling of her head and the prunus in the background suggest that this could be the work of Bishndas.

The Album is also famous for its exquisite studies of birds and flowers, and one of each category was selected for display, illustrated here within their original album mounts decorated with gold flowers.

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The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) with a lily. Mughal, 1630-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.9v)
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The black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) is a medium-sized found throughout many parts of the world including South and South-east Asia. Such herons have a black crown and back, with the remainder of the body white or grey, their eyes are red, and legs yellow. Being relatively stocky, with shorter bills, legs, and necks than other heron species, they do not fit the typical body form of the heron family. Their resting posture is normally somewhat hunched, but when hunting they extend their necks and look more like other wading birds. These birds stand still at the water's edge and wait to ambush prey lurking in the water, mainly at night or early morning. All these characteristics are evident in our portrait of such a bird, hunched and stocky, its feet in the shallow water of a jhil.

Jahangir’s passion for natural history was not inherited by his son Shah Jahan and grandson Dara Shikoh. It was during the 1630s that flowers and floral arrangements with their decorative possibilities came to dominate Mughal textiles and the adornment of architecture and album pages. Hence the addition of an egregious lily has transformed the painting from a natural history study into a decorative album page.

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Exotic flowers with butterflies. Mughal, 1630-33 (British Library Add.Or.3129, f.64r)
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The album contains several studies of flowers that could pass muster as natural history paintings, albeit derived ultimately from European herbals (see my earlier post Mughal flower studies and their European inspiration), but many more are in a more decorative vein as here. This exotic plant with its double flowers, protuberant stigma and folded over toothed leaves could be intended for a lily or a hibiscus, but the intention of the painting is decorative, not naturalistic. The flowers are regularly spaced radially in the Chinese manner throughout the field and are linked by spiralling stems in the arabesque patterns that are also seen in the tulips at the base of Muhammad Khan’s painting of a prince above, as well as elsewhere in the album. Such floral patterns, still less the paintings of different flowers all springing from a single stem (e.g. Losty and Roy, Mughal India, fig. 86), did not make it into Shahjahani decoration in general and are possibly examples of artists’ early experimenting with such ideas before settling on the more familiar sprays seen in album borders and pietra dura work.  These ideas will be explored in a forthcoming paper.

Further reading:
Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981
Inayat Khan, The Shah Jahan Nama of ‘Inayat Khan, trans. A.R. Fuller, ed. W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1990  
Losty, J.P., ‘Dating the Dara Shikoh Album: the Floral Evidence’, in Ebba Koch and Ali Anooshahr, eds., The Mughal Empire under Shah Jahan (1628-58) – New trends of research, forthcoming
Losty, J.P., and Roy, M., Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Art, Emeritus
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