THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

14 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

07 April 2017

Take a feather and a candle: why thorough spring cleaning is so important

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Looking through our collection of digitised Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, you may have noticed that amongst all of the biblical scenes and decorative letters, there are scenes of families cleaning their houses. Given the same spatial importance of scenes of lofty figures like Abraham and Moses, these scenes jump out to modern eyes as they seem to show families cleaning their homes together, with the men helping out with the housework too.

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Golden Haggadah. Catalonia, Spain, 2nd quarter of the 14th century. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 27210 f.15r)   noc

These manuscripts are all examples of a type of Hebrew book called a Haggadah. The Haggadah is a service book used in Jewish households during the ritual meal on Passover. Originally included in the text of Jewish prayer books, the Haggadah became an independent unit around the end of the 13th century. The Hebrew manuscript collection at the British Library features many illuminated Haggadot from the late 13th/early 14th century, mainly from Spain. These Haggadot have now been digitised thanks to the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Part of what makes them so charming and historically significant, is that they show contemporary domestic scenes, presumably of the families who commissioned and owned the manuscripts. While obviously they aren’t snapshots of reality, they are depictions of how the families wanted to represent themselves.

If you look more closely at the images, you can see the women sweeping the surfaces, and the man looking into a cupboard and sweeping it clean with a feather, and a young boy holding a small bowl to catch the crumbs. He is also holding a candle, helping him to see into the dark corners. Candles, feathers and bowls are not necessary part of the standard medieval dustpan and brush set; they represent a very specific part of the Jewish customs surrounding Passover. These scenes are faithful representations the Jewish commandment to look for hamets (leaven) on the eve of Passover.

Leaven, or hamets refers to foods which are forbidden on the Jewish holiday of Passover. Based on the Exodus from Egypt when the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise, grains that have been mixed with water and left to start the leavening process are not permitted to be eaten or possessed during the week-long festival. Indeed there is a specific commandment to remove all hamets from one’s home. This work must take place before midday on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan. In 2017, that date falls on Monday the 10th of April.

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Ashkenazi Haggadah. Germany, c.1460. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 14762 f.1v)  noc

Look at the fifteenth-century Ashkenazi Haggadah (Add MS 14762). Right at the beginning, you can see a man sweeping a cupboard clean with a feather and gathering the crumbs into a small bowl. He is richly dressed with lavish robes and money belt, clearly the head of his family and not a servant. The main text on the same page is the blessing that should traditionally be recited before this ritual search for crumbs:

On the eve of the fourteenth [of Nisan] one searches [the house] for leaven by the light of a candle and says the blessing: “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us about removing the leaven.”

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Sister Haggadah. Barcelona, Spain, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century. Similar to the Golden Haggadah, the female members of the family are sweeping the house from floor to ceiling, while the head of the family is sweeping the cupboards and brushing crumbs into a bowl held by a small boy. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Or.2884 f.17r )  noc

What makes these images so interesting is that they don’t only show the action of the cleaning, but also the specific detail within the ritual as describe in Jewish law. The Shulhan Arukh, (one of the most important Jewish legal codes) emphasises that first and foremost it is the house owner’s responsibility to search for the leaven. Even if he asks a member of his household to help, ideally he should say the blessing and he should participate in the search. (SA, Orah hayim, 432). Jewish tradition also specifies the use of the candle, feather, and wooden bowl or spoon. The candle is necessary, because it gives enough light in the evening to look for crumbs in the small cracks and holes of the house (SA, Orah hayim, 433).

Some of the manuscripts also show what to do with all of the hamets crumbs after you have found them.

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Haggadah for Passover with the commentaries of Isaac Abravanel. Altona, Germany, 1740. Full manuscript can be viewed here (British Library Add MS 18724 f.2r )  noc

You have to burn them! Just have a look at the relevant page from this eighteenth- century Haggadah. In the upper part of the page we find the blessing for the searching for the leaven, while underneath an Aramaic statement, which one recites to nullify the leaven which might still be in his possession that hasn’t been found:

All leaven that is in my possession, that I have seen and not seen, that I have beheld and not beheld, that I have removed and not removed, let it be nullified and like the dust of the earth.

In the initial word of Barukh (Blessed), we can see a man searching for the leaven with the help of a feather, a bowl and a candle. In the initial word of Kol (All), we find the same man busy burning in the fireplace what he found. It is thought that the use of the wooden vessel to sweep the crumbs into was practical for this stage, as it could be burnt even if no hamets had been found, allowing this ritual to still be performed.

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The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nation
s. Published in 1733 by Jean Frédéric Bernard with etchings by Bernard Picart. It was reprinted several more times during the 18th century, and translated into 5 languages. This image is from the 1733 London edition (British Library 878.l.2)  noc

This ‘spring clean’ ritual of searching for the hamets drew the attention of non-Jewish artists as well. In one of the great publishing enterprises of the Enlightenment period, The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations, one of the two images devoted to Passover is the depiction of the Searching for Leaven. It is interesting that with all of the different rituals and complexities surrounding Passover, like with the Hebrew manuscripts, this ritual was considered so important to depict. The illustrations were designed by Bernard Picart, who relied heavily on his own observations of the Sefardic Jewish community of Amsterdam.

In the context of the Haggadah, these images may have served as visual aids, instructions for the family on the precise nature of the tradition, a kind of non-textual manual. But they could also have served as a kind of self-representation. Could it have been that a whole family cleaning their house together was so unusual? Or was it just that this particular scene was such a good example of the detail and specificity within Jewish law, and how families ensured that people knew how strictly they were adhering to it?

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Ashkenazi Haggadah, Germany, c.1430-1470. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 14762 f.6r)  noc

After the spring-cleaning, the family is able to sit down to their Passover meal, read their Haggadah, and drink wine. They’ve earned it!

Zsofia Buda and Miriam Lewis, The Hebrew Manuscripts digitisation project, Asian and African Collections
http://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts
 ccownwork

09 March 2017

The Book of Esther and the Jewish Festival Purim

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Purim is undoubtedly one of the most boisterous, cheerful and joyous festivals in the Jewish calendar. It takes place in early spring on 14th of Adar which this year starts at sundown on March 11th. Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jews of Persia during the reign of King Ahasuerus. The moving and dramatic story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai is told in the Book of Esther, known in Hebrew as Megilat Ester (Scroll of Esther).

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Exotic animals in an illustrated Esther Scroll. Holland, c. 1630 or 1640  (BL Or.1047)  noc

The Book of Esther belongs to Ketuvim (Writings), which is the third division of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). Haman, the conniving chief minister at Ahasuerus’ court, decreed to kill all the Jews in the King's vast empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia and included 127 provinces. Lots (in Hebrew purim) were cast to determine the date when the Jews would be exterminated, hence the festival’s appellation. Esther, the King's Jewish consort, was warned in time by Mordecai, and they both managed to thwart the annihilation of their people. The King punished Haman and rewarded Mordecai who sent letters throughout the kingdom, urging Jews to observe Purim every year with merrymaking and gift offerings.

The historic origin of the Book of Esther and its authenticity have been the subject of much debate and conjecture over the years. There have been chronological difficulties with King Ahasuerus, even though some researchers have claimed that he was in fact the Persian king Xerxes I, who ruled 485 - 465 BCE. The Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) and Josephus (Jewish scholar and historian who lived 37-100 CE), maintained that the king in the story was actually Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE).

According to recent research the Book of Esther was written in the middle of the 4th century BCE during the reign of Artaxerxes III (359-338 BCE), however the absence in Persian sources of any references to a king that had a Jewish consort created a new problem. Some scholars have contended that given the striking resemblance between the names Esther and Mordecai to the Babylonian deities Marduk and Ishtar, the story was rooted in Babylonian worship practices, which the Jews would have adapted and transformed into the story of Esther. The well-known German Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891) for example, argued that the Book of Esther was written at the time of the Maccabean struggle (167-160 BCE) against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in order to boost the spirit of the Jews at that critical time, and to show that God does not abandon its people.

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Esther Scroll with floral decorations. Europe, 16th century (BL Egerton MS 67A)  noc

As a matter of interest, the Book of Esther does not feature among the Dead Sea Scrolls (spanning 150 BCE – 70 CE) and references to Purim do not feature in the Jewish literature before the 1st century CE. What can be said with some certainty is that since the Talmudic period (c. 500 CE) the Book of Esther has been customarily written on parchment in the form of a scroll, and that the festival had long been established by the 2nd century CE as evidenced in the tractate Megilah of the Mishnah (corpus of the oral tradition of Jewish law). The tractate contains details on the festival’s observance and the rules governing the reading of the Scroll of Esther.

As God’s name is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, it was considered permissible to illustrate it. Scrolls of Esther read in the synagogue during the festival services had to be plain, however, scrolls intended for personal use could be illustrated with scenes from the narrative or ornamented with other motifs.

Esther Scroll decoration flourished particularly in the 17th, and especially in the 18th century, in Italy, Holland and to a lesser extent in Germany. The tradition of decorating and illustrating the Scroll of Esther continued in the centuries that followed, with fine specimens being produced in Europe as well as the Middle East and North Africa. In Italy, especially, Esther Scrolls were lavishly decorated. In fact, the earliest surviving embellished Esther Scrolls were created in the second half of 16th century Italy.

The Marelli Scroll held in the British Library’s Hebrew manuscript collection, is a beautiful and rare example of Esther Scroll ornamentation from that period. Its decoration consists of eight different types of copperplate engraved borders that frame the handwritten text of the Book of Esther. The borders bear no relation whatsoever to the story, featuring instead a lavish array of putti, grotesque telamons and pagan goddesses holding heraldic shields, and real and fabulous animals hand-coloured in bright hues. The creator of those impressive borders was Andrea Marelli, a book illustrator and printmaker who was active in Rome and Sienna around 1567-1572.

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Segment of The Marelli Scroll, Italy c. 1573 (BL Or.13028)  noc

Finely engraved specimens from 17th and 18th century Holland have also survived. Some of these have grand arched portals encasing the text. The portals are supported by columns on high pedestals between which stand the principal characters of the Esther tale: Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Esther and Haman. Episodes of the Esther narrative are confined to the lower borders, whereas the upper borders are populated by female figures bearing palm leaves. These specific pictorial schemes typify scrolls created by Salom d’Italia (1619-1655). A native of Italy as suggested by his name, he most probably acquired his drawing and engraving skills from his uncle, the Mantuan printer Eliezer d’Italia. In 1641 Salom moved to Amsterdam and worked there until about 1648, creating some exquisite pieces among them portraits of prominent figures and Esther Scrolls.

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Esther Scroll with engraved borders by Salom d’Italia, Holland, 17th century (BL Or.4786)  noc

Often, embellished special cylindrical containers in silver, gold or ivory, were made to hold and protect the scrolls. We do not know exactly when special cases were first used, however, a brief mention to a case can be found in Bernard Picart’s Ceremonies and Religious Customs (Amsterdam, 1723). That might not be the earliest reference to a Scroll of Esther case, yet it is the only one I have managed to find.

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Esther Scroll enclosed in an ivory case with an ivory puller. Europe, 17th century (BL Add MS 11831)  noc

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Minute Esther Scroll (50 x 94 mm) written on a single strip of vellum wound on a silver-plated roller. Europe, 18th century (BL Or.4670)  noc

Throughout the generations, the story of Esther has been cherished by Jews everywhere for its message of bravery, resolve and faith. The eventful and theatrical narrative which is reminiscent of an Arabian Nights story, and the exuberance and merriment associated with the Purim celebrations, have lent themselves to an outburst of literary activity. The carnival spirit of the festival and the Book of Esther’s striking protagonists have been captured and immortalised in drama, poetry and prose, with virtually hundreds of surviving works in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and other Jewish languages, spanning many centuries. The British Library’s Hebrew collection abounds in printed material dedicated exclusively to the festival. This is just a small cluster of some noteworthy pieces:

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Left: Shir na’eh ba-hadurim. A Purim poem in Judeo-Italian. Mantua, 1619 (BL 1979.d.36)  noc
Right: Akta Ester mit Ahashverosh. A Purim play in Yiddish.  Prague, 1774. (BL 1980.c.39)  noc


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Left: Pizmonim. Purim songs in Judeo-Greek according to the custom of the Jews of Yanina. Salonica, 1875 (BL 1977.bb.27(2))  nocRight: Cantares y elevasiyones  para alavar ah el Diyo en la festividad de Purim. Poems for Purim in Judeo-Spanish [Ladino].
[Leghorn?], 1850 (BL 1979.d.8)  noc


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Left: Esterace pustaka=Megilat Ester. The Scroll of Esther in Hebrew and Marathi. Mumbai, 1886. (BL 1946.d.45)  noc
Right: Esther (The story of Purim) in five acts, by Abraham Levinson. London, 1938. 11782.bb.75  noc

 

Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew & Christian Orient Studies
 CC-BY-SA

14 February 2017

Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

16 January 2017

The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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
 CC-BY-SA

01 August 2016

An in-depth look at the British Library’s collection of Arabic manuscripts from West Africa

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In his previous blog, PhD student Paul Naylor introduced the BL’s collection of Arabic manuscripts from West Africa, on which he has been working. In part two of this blog series, and with the cataloguing of the collection almost complete, Paul looks at the collection in more depth, picking out some particularly interesting items.

Religious Works
Most of the material in the collection is of a religious nature, reflecting the strong link between literacy in the Arabic language and Islamic learning in 19th century West Africa. There are five complete copies of the Qur’an – the holy book of Islam – and many more incomplete sections. (In a forthcoming blog I will reflect on some unique features of the BL’s collection of illuminated Qur’an copies produced in West Africa.)

Other religious works include copies of biographies and praise poems of the Prophet Muhammad, many of which are recited on the occasion of the Prophet’s Birthday (Mawlud). There are also many devotional and mystical works from the Qadiri and Tijani Sufi orders, founded in 12th century Baghdad and 18th century Aïn Madhi (present-day Algeria) respectively and popular in West Africa.

The collection also features spiritual works from West African religious movements. In 1804, the teacher and social reformer Usman dan Fodio embarked on a military campaign resulting in what we know today as the Sokoto Caliphate, in the area of present-day northern Nigeria. Usman’s movement had a profound effect on West African society and for many Muslims he is a figure of immense spiritual importance. The British Library’s collection includes a fine copy of the 'Meadows of Paradise' (Rawḍ al-Jinān). This is a work of 'miracle literature' about Usman written by Gidado dan Layma, one of his closest associates, and compiled sometime in the 1840s. Its presence in this material, which is almost certainly from a region beyond the Sokoto Caliphate, is testament to the extent of Usman’s influence throughout the West African region. A page from this work is shown below.

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Page from the 'Meadows of Paradise' (Rawḍ al-Jinān), by Gidado dan Layma. Or 6953 f. 297v.

Educational Works
For the British Library’s recent ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’ exhibition, we showcased items from the collection demonstrating the breadth of the Islamic ‘core curriculum’  still being taught to students in centres of Islamic learning across the West African region (Hall & Stewart 2011: 109-74). These works include canons of Maliki law (the branch of Sunni Islam followed in West Africa) and texts on Islamic beliefs and  practices, as well as classical works on Arabic grammar and syntax such as the Ājurrūmiyya.

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Page from a West African copy of the Ājurrūmiyya, a work on Arabic grammar by the Moroccan scholar Ibn Ājurrūm al-Ṣanhājī (1273-1323). Or 6953, f. 255v. Noc

There are also many works authored by West African scholars on subjects such as the preparation of halal meat and the eating of kola nut, as well as obituaries for local scholars who passed away. This page is from an obituary for one such scholar, al-Haj Salim al-Zaghawi al-Kasami, from a town called Touba, a common name for settlements of Muslim scholars in the Senegambian region. This personage is listed as the owner of several manuscripts in the collection, some of which may be written in his hand or the hand of his students. The author laments, ‘Knowledge has left Touba and Futa. The time of grammar, inflectional endings (iʿrāb) and conjugation is over’ and compares the death of this scholar to a disaster rivalling the Biblical flood.

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Obituary for the Senegambian scholar al-Haj Salim al-Zaghawi al-Kasami. Or 6473, f. 105r. Noc

Fawāʾid
Most of the remaining material comes under the category of ‘Fawāʾid’. This term is an Arabic word meaning ‘benefits’ and constitutes a practice or ritual said to result in a supernatural effect. This practice could be something as simple as reciting a Muslim prayer or section of the Qur’an on a certain day, at a certain time or in a certain place. Other documents explain how to manufacture talismans (Ar. aḥrāz). In an Islamic context, a talisman is usually a small piece of paper with a passage of Arabic writing on it. Depending on the intended effect, the paper could be worn about the person as a protective amulet (Ar. khātim), buried in a special place or, most commonly, written out in ink on a slate and then washed off with water, milk or plant extracts. This mixture is either drunk or applied to the body. The image below shows a religious scholar writing an amulet for a widow.

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A marabout or Muslim religious leader writing an amulet for a widow. P.D. Boilat, Esquisses sénégalaises, etc. (Paris, 1853). British Library, 10096.h.9. Noc

Many fawāʾid are accompanied by number squares (Ar. awfāq) in which each row and column add up to the same number, not unlike a Sudoku. The squares, which are common throughout the Islamic world, are said to have come to the Middle East from China. They originally consisted of 3 lines of 3 small squares, before being enlarged and made more complex by medieval Arab mathematicians (Camman 1969). Later they were combined with the science of numerology, in which each letter of the Arabic alphabet is assigned a numerical value, so that the squares could also be used to express words. When filled with a name of God or a Prophet - in letters or in their numerical value - the square was thought to have very powerful spiritual properties. When filled in with a personal name, the square could be used to tell one’s fortune or to protect (or alternatively curse) that person. The earliest Europeans to visit West Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries commented on the ubiquitous nature of these devices, which were used by Muslim and non-Muslim alike and made by specialists called mallams (Ar. muʿallim, a learned person).

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Examples of number squares. Or 6576, ff. 11v and 12r. Noc

In the past, this material was deemed to be of little interest to scholars. However, in more recent times, the value of these documents is being recognised (Brenner 1985; Epelboin 2016).  As well as being a fascinating record of West African trees and plants used in such preparations, what we must remember is that each talisman was made at the request of a ‘patient’ for a specific malady or problem.

Thus, these documents are perhaps the most personal of the collection. They reflect preoccupations we can all relate to: the relief of back pain, a guarantee of a happy marriage, the conception of a child, an aide for students to memorise their lessons, or even a husband’s appeal for his wife to come back to him. There are also many ‘love amulets’ with space left for the name of a man and a woman. A detailed study of these talismans will undoubtedly tell us much about the social history of the societies that produced them. The image below is a page from a fāʾida (singular of fawāʾid) to make all who see the bearer love them, ‘as a Muslim loves paradise, as a faithful person loves prayer, as a stomach loves food, as fields love the rain, as infidels and wolves love unclean meat’.

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A love fāʾida or amulet. Or 6880, f. 334r. Noc

In the next few months, detailed descriptions of every one of the Arabic manuscripts from West Africa held in the BL’s collection will be uploaded onto the British Library’s online catalogue of manuscripts. This will make it easy for readers to know what is in the collection and facilitate access and study.

Further reading:

Bruce S. Hall and Charles C. Stewart, ‘The Historic “Core Curriculum” and the Book Market in Islamic West Africa’, in Graziano Krätli and Ghislaine Lydon (eds), The Trans-Saharan Book Trade (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 109-74.

Schuyler Cammann, ‘Islamic and Indian Magic Squares. Part I’, History of Religions, 8, 3 (1969): 181-209

Schuyler Cammann, ‘Islamic and Indian Magic Squares. Part II’, History of Religions, 8, 4 (1969): 271-299.

Louis Brenner, ‘The Esoteric Sciences in West African Islam’ in Brian M. Du Toit and Ismail Hussein Abdalla (eds), African Healing Strategies (Buffalo: Trado-Medic Books, 1985), pp. 20-28.

Alan Epelboin, ‘Amulettes et objets magiques du Musée de l'Homme collectés dans les ordures du Sénégal Collection ALEP (1983-‐2016)’ (2016). The author spent many years collecting more modern devices from rubbish dumps in Senegal; this collection can be found online.

 Paul Naylor  Ccownwork

27 June 2016

Revisiting the provenance of the Sindbadnamah (IO Islamic 3214)

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

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

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The philosopher Sindbad promises the king to teach his son (BL IO Islamic 3214, fol. 18v)
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Immediately I was reminded of the Sindbādnāmah about which I had written in an earlier blog (The Story of Sinbad or the Seven Sages). Circumstantial evidence had given this manuscript an origin in South India, probably Golconda, between 1575 and 1585 (Weinstein, p. 127), but how it arrived in the East India Company Library remained a mystery.

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

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Above: List of Selected Manuscripts for the Honble. the Court of Directors, submitted by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam in December 1799
Below: “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad, the Poetical works of Hakeem Sindbad, with Paintings” (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff.70r and 74v)
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Although 197 volumes of Arabic and Persian manuscripts were deposited in the Library on 16 July 1806 (Library Day Book for 1806), it wasn't until 1807 (204 vols) and April 1808 (68 vols) that the full allocation was received. Of almost 2000 volumes of the original library, the East India Company received an estimated total of 469 while the rest were divided between the Asiatic Society and the College of Fort William, Calcutta.

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Binding of IO Islamic 3214 labelled “Kitab Hakeem Sindbad”
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Above: Packed ready for despatch, a List of Books selected by the Prize Agents at Seringapatam for the Honorable Court of Directors and not yet transmitted, included in a letter from Wm. Hunter, Secy. to College Council, Fort William, dated 17 February 1807, to Thomas Brown, Chief Secy. to Government
Below: Details of manuscripts sent (BL Mss Eur/E196, ff 90r and 91r)
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Folio 1r of the Sindbādnāmah contains several abraded seals. One is the East India Library stamp which was deliberately effaced when the book was stolen from the library (see my earlier post). Jerry Losty (Art of the Book,  p.71) and Laura Weinstein (Variations on a Persian theme, p. 127) had already suggested that at least one of the others might be a seal of the Qutbshahi dynasty. Examination using sophisticated filters at RetroReveal.com and comparison with other Qutbshahi seals show that it is likely to be the seal of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, and is probably dated 1012 (1603/4). The fact that many of Tipu Sultan's manuscripts had belonged previously to the Qutbshahi dynasty only serves to strengthen this connection.

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Folio 1r showing the abraded Qutbshahi seals (BL IO Islamic 3214, f. 1r)
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Above: Seals of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Sultan of Golconda, 1565-1612, from another Tipu manuscript (BL IO Islamic 550)
Below: Seal of IO Islamic 3214 viewed with help from RetroReveal, revealing the letters مهر ز on the lower right side

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

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

 

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

 


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

18 April 2016

The Polonsky Foundation and the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project at the British Library

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To celebrate Passover 2016 and the launch of our new website 'Hebrew Manuscripts', Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies, writes about the Polonsky Foundation and its role in the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project.

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A family celebrating Passover, from the Barcelona Haggadah.  Service book for Passover eve. Catalonia, Spain, c. 1370  (British Library Add MS 14761, f. 28v noc

Philanthropy plays a vital role in our modern world. When the resources of arts, heritage and cultural organizations are limited, the gaps can sometimes be filled by those who have the means to do so; in this way, the contributions of benefactors and philanthropic bodies have done much to advance and improve the business, culture, education and welfare of many communities around the globe.

Among the philanthropic organisations the British Library has collaborated with more recently is The Polonsky Foundation, which aims at advancing higher education in the humanities and social sciences, and equally, at promoting the arts in the UK, USA and Israel.  Digitisation of rare collections in major libraries of the world is a signature programme of The Polonsky Foundation and reflects its commitment to the preservation and democratization of knowledge.

I have been very fortunate to meet Dr Leonard Polonsky on several occasions in the past. My first and most memorable encounter took place in November 2011 when he paid a visit to the British Library. Showing guests treasures from the Library’s Hebrew collections has always been an immense privilege, and throughout all the years I have been working for this amazing organisation, I have unfailingly done my utmost to showcase collection items that would not only impress the guests with their illuminated embellishments, but would also generate questions and a lively discussion.

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The Barcelona Haggadah,  service book for Passover eve. Historiated initial word panel with  Barukh (Blessed)  opening the Havdalah benediction (Separation) recited at the end of the Sabbath. Note the lush marginal foliage scrolls, interwoven with humans, birds and hybrids. Catalonia, Spain, c. 1370  (British Library Add MS 14761, f. 26r)  noc

Dr Polonsky showed genuine interest in what was on display that day – a volume of the sumptuous Lisbon Bible, the intriguing San’a Pentateuch, and the unparalleled Barcelona Haggadah. Following that meeting and the subsequent submission of proposals, the Foundation agreed to support the Hebrew manuscripts project in 2012. This significant three-year project, which started in earnest in the summer of 2013 after dedicated project staff had been recruited (a Project Manager, a Cataloguer and a Project Support Officer), is due to end in June this year. It has focussed on digitizing cover to cover some 1300 unique manuscripts from the Library’s Hebrew collection, making them freely accessible on-line to a global audience.

Delivering the project has been challenging but we have learnt a great deal, particularly how to resolve problems swiftly, meet deadlines, and work efficiently as a team and collaborate with colleagues across the Library. So far we have made excellent progress and the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project is nearing completion.   Almost 800 out of the 1300 manuscripts digitised as part of the project, including nearly 70 scrolls, are already available on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site.

A new Hebrew web space will be launched at the end of April and will contain articles and images on specific themes, collection items, items of the week, videos and 3D modelling of selected objects. We are confident that this hub will be a great success and will showcase the gems of the Library’s Hebrew manuscript collection.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to my colleagues who have been working assiduously to deliver the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project, and by so doing have facilitated worldwide access to a valuable and unmatched learning resource. This worthy initiative would not have been possible without the immense kindness and judicious vision of The Polonsky Foundation, to which goes our profound and wholehearted gratitude.

Some of my favourites—which I showed Dr. Polonsky back in 2011—are featured below. Click on the hyperlinks to go directly to the digitised images.

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The San'a Pentateuch. San'a, Yemen, 1469. Section from Shirat Ha'azinu (Give Ear; Deuteronomy:32) the lyrical poem Moses recited in front of the Israelites before his death. The central decoration consists of micrography (patterns outlined in minute script) and medallions inspired by Islamic art (British Library Or.2348, f. 152r )  noc

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Detail of Or.2348, f. 152r,  showing the decorative medallions inspired by Islamic art

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Illuminated borders at the opening of Isaiah, from the Lisbon Bible, volume 2. Lisbon, Portugal, 1482 (British Library Or 2627, f. 136v)  noc

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The Lisbon Bible, volume 2. Embellished opening with juxtaposed borders to the Book of Amos. Lisbon, Portugal, 1482  (British Library Or 2627, f. 252r)  noc

 

Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies
 ccownwork