Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013. Read more

23 May 2022

More highlights from our GOLD exhibition

Gold is a new exhibition at the British Library in London which opened last week, presenting 50 spectacular manuscripts from around the world. The exhibits are drawn equally from the Western heritage and the Asian and African collections of the British Library, and feature both iconic manuscripts, familiar from publications and previous exhibitions, and a few treasures never previously displayed in public. A recent Medieval manuscripts blog presented some of the highlights of the Gold exhibition; here are more delights, from an exhibition in which every item is a star in its own right.

The Lotus Sutra

The exhibition opens with a selection of sacred texts from different world faiths written entirely in gold. This lavishly decorated scroll of the Lotus Sutra, copied in 1636 in gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper, was probably commissioned by the Japanese emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596–1680) for presentation to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko where his grandfather-in-law, the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, was buried. The Lotus Sutra is one of the most influential scriptures of the Mahayana school of Buddhism in East Asia, and is seen by many as the summation of the Buddha’s teachings. At the start of the scroll is an exquisite illustration of the Buddha granting promises to his disciples that they may attain Buddhahood in their future lives, but in the exhibition we have chosen to focus attention on the sacred text itself, beautifully written in gold.

Or_13926_f002r-crop
Lotus Sutra, Japan, 1636. British Library, Or 13926  Noc

Songs for Shah Jahan

The exhibition proceeds from sacred texts written in gold to secular documents where gold ink served to honour and elevate royal names. The Sahasras (Thousand Delights), a collection of 1004 songs written in Braj Bhasha, a dialect of Hindi, was compiled for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–58) by the master musician Nayak Bakhshu. This illuminated copy was probably made for the Emperor himself, and the names of the original patrons of the songs were replaced on every page by the royal name ‘Shah Jahan’ written in gold, as can be seen on the penultimate lines of the opening page below.

14. IO Islamic 1116 1v
Songs of Nayak Bakhshu, India, c. 1650. British Library, IO Islamic 1116, f. 1v Noc

Dedication to King Henry VIII

The use of gold for the sovereign name features in a work about the Holy Land by the French author Martin de Brion, two copies of which were produced as gifts to the rival kings, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. On display is Henry’s copy, which opens with his royal arms framed by a border, two fleurs-de-lis and two crowned ‘H’ initials in gold. Facing this is a dedication poem to Henry, splendidly written in gold ink on a red ground, alluding to the heraldic colours of England.

Royal MS 20 A IV 
Martin de Brion, Tresample description de toute la Terre Saincte, Paris, c. 1540. British Library, Royal MS 20 A IV, ff. 1v-2r Noc

Illuminated Hindu scroll

The exhibition also explores the use of gold in pictures to depict sacred figures and evoke divinity. The Bhagavata Purana, one of the most influential scriptures in the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, contains stories of the various manifestations of the God Vishnu. Prominently positioned at the start of this scroll is the sacred mystic syllable Om, written in gold, followed by an image of the God Ganesh.

Add_ms_16624_f002r-crop
Bhagavata Purana, Rajasthan, India, late 18th century. British Library, Add MS 16624, f. 2r    Noc

Lives of the Buddha

Before gaining Enlightenment, the Bodhisatta (or Buddha-to-be) had hundreds of lives, in which he was born as man and animal in many different forms. In a Burmese manuscript, gold is used to identify the Bodhisatta in various Jatakas, or stories of his lives. In one story, the Bodhisatta is born as an elephant, whose herd is terrorised by a giant crab who lives in the nearby lake. The crab manages to seize him in his claws and a heart-stopping battle ensues. Only when the elephant's mate coaxes the crab with flattering words does it loosen its death-grip. This story praises the virtue of loyal partners.

Or_4542B_f111_114r
Tikanipat, scenes from the Jatakas, Myanmar, 19th century. British Library, Or 4542/B, f. 111r  Noc

Thai lacquer book cover

A lacquered and gilded Thai book cover, which depicts animals and plants in the heavenly Himavanta forest of the Buddhist cosmos, was created using a Thai technique called lai rot nam (design washed with water). Thick mulberry paper was covered with layers of black lacquer, a pattern was traced, areas to remain black were painted with a natural gum, and gold leaf was applied to the whole surface. The next day the gum was removed with water to reveal the intricate gold design.

Or 15257-det
Buddhist texts and Phra Malai, Thailand, 1850–1900. British Library, Or 15257 (detail of front cover) Noc

Treasure binding

The most prestigious sacred Christian manuscripts were sometimes fitted with treasure bindings of precious metalwork, and displayed prominently in churches. Although the ornate binding of this Gospel-book is probably not contemporary with the manuscript, at least some of the components are medieval. The cover of copper-gilt (copper overlaid with a thin layer of gold leaf) is ornamented with a relief figure of Christ in the centre, surrounded by four enamel plaques and a border of crystals.

Add MS 21921 (b)
The Four Gospels, with a treasure binding. Northwest Germany, c. 1000 (manuscript); Germany or France, 12th–14th century (some binding components). British Library, Add MS 21921  Noc

Art Deco binding

The Art Déco style of the 1920s is exemplified by the lively style, fine craftsmanship and the rich materials of this binding, created by Pierre-Émile Legrain (1889– 1929). His innovative and creative designs incorporated geometric and abstract patterns, featuring semicircles of gold with overlapping blue and silver circular motifs on goatskin. This binding is the most recent item in the exhibition, which spans 1,500 years of writing traditions.

Legrain binding-crop
Pierre-Émile Legrain binding on Colette, La vagabonde Paris, 1927. British Library, C.108.w.8  Noc

Annabel Teh Gallop, Co-Curator, Gold  Ccownwork

The exhibition Gold: 50 spectacular manuscripts from around the world is on at the British Library until 2 October 2022. To visit, book your tickets here.

An accompanying book, Gold, presenting 21 highlights from the exhibition, is available from the British Library shop.

Supported by:

BullionVault logo

The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous.

16 May 2022

Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project: 120 more Javanese manuscripts to be digitised

With the generous support of William and Judith Bollinger, 120 Javanese manuscripts in the British Library are being digitised. The manuscripts date from the 18th to the late 19th centuries, and cover a wide range of subjects, from Javanese literature, history and calendrical traditions to Islamic texts on theology, law and Sufism, and include some finely illuminated or illustrated volumes. A full list of the manuscripts to be digitised can be found here. On completion of this project by 2023, a great milestone will have been reached: all the Javanese manuscripts written on paper in the British Library will have been digitised, and will be freely and fully accessible online.

This project continues and complements the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project (2017-2019), supported by Mr S.P. Lohia, which digitised 75 manuscripts originating from the Palace (Kraton) of Yogyakarta, which had been seized by British forces in 1812 and are now held in the British Library. In the present Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project, the great majority of manuscripts to be digitised – over a hundred of the 120 – were also acquired during the British administration of Java from 1811 to 1816, and are thus substantially earlier than most other Javanese manuscripts held in libraries today.

Serat Angling Darma, undated but written on English paper watermarked 1808, with ‘temple’-style illuminated frames with brick pedestals, columns and domes
Serat Angling Darma, undated but written on English paper watermarked 1808, with ‘temple’-style illuminated frames with brick pedestals, columns and domes. British Library, Add 12285, ff. 1v-2r Noc

In this new digitisation project, 41 of the Javanese manuscripts are from the collection of John Crawfurd, who was Resident of Yogyakarta from 1811 to 1814. While these manuscripts are not from the Kraton library in Yogyakarta, many of them have royal connections through the Pakualaman, the minor court set up in Yogyakarta under British patronage in 1812 in return for support during the attack on the Sultan's palace. Crawfurd and Prince Paku Alam I enjoyed warm relations founded on a shared interest in Javanese literature and history. The Pakualaman court became renowned as an artistic centre, and many of the manuscripts presented to Crawfurd by Paku Alam are illuminated in the characteristic candi or ‘temple’ style, with decorated frames (wadana) in the form of distinctly architectural constructs, as shown above (Behrend 2005; Saktimulya 2016).

Another British official with an interest in Javanese history was Colin Mackenzie, Chief Engineer in Java from 1811 to 1813, and 43 manuscripts to be digitised in this project come from the Mackenzie collection. In contrast to the Crawfurd collection, which mostly comprises manuscripts from Yogyakarta, a considerable number of manuscripts owned by Mackenzie originate from other regions of Java including the pasisir, the northern coastal strip. Mackenzie received manuscripts from Kudus and Rembang (MSS Jav 90, 99), from the Adipati of Gresik (MSS Jav 12), and from the son of the Panembahan of Sumenep in Madura (MSS Jav 25, 31). Five of Mackenzie’s manuscripts came from Kyai Adipati Sura Adimanggala, the erudite Regent of Semarang (MSS Jav 1, 2, 3, 18, 67), including a divination almanac, Papakem Watugunung, dated 1812 (MSS Jav 67), written and illustrated by Sura Adimanggala himself.

Papakem Watugunung, with illustrations of attributes of each of the thirty wuku or weeks
Papakem Watugunung, with illustrations of attributes of each of the thirty wuku or weeks, written and illustrated by Kyai Adipati Sura Adimanggala of Semarang, 1812. British Library, MSS Jav 67, f. 38r Noc

From the Dutch official F.J. Rothenbuhler, former Governor (Gezaghebber) of the Eastern Coast of Java, based in Surabaya, Mackenzie received two of the finest early illustrated Javanese manuscripts known, which appear to have been commissioned by Rothenbuhler’s wife, named in the text as Nyonya Sakeber (i.e. Gezaghebber). Serat Sela Rasa (MSS Jav 28), copied in 1804, was one of the first Javanese manuscripts in the British Library to be digitised, since when its wayang-style drawings have attracted wide attention and adorned numerous book covers published internationally. Much less known is its equally lavishly illustrated sister manuscript, Panji Jaya Kusuma (MSS Jav 68), but its planned digitisation will bring this beautiful manuscript too into the limelight, and is certainly one of the highlights of the project.

Mss_jav_68_f024v-ed
Prince Dewakusuma (father of Panji) entering his wife's bed-chamber; her presence is only hinted at, tantalizingly, by her foot peeping out from under the bed-covers. Panji Jaya Kusuma, Surabaya, 1805. British Library, MSS Jav 68, f. 24v Noc

The Mackenzie collection is also rich in Islamic works, written in Javanese in both Javanese script (hanacaraka) and modified Arabic script (pegon). Manuscripts may include texts in Arabic, in some cases with interlinear translations in Javanese. Subjects range from stories of Islamic saints and heroes such as Anbiya (MSS Jav 51) and Carita satus (MSS Jav 73), texts on mysticism and prayer, and Sufi silsilah or chains of transmission of teachings, as well as compilations of prayers and vows. There are also a number of primbon, compendia of religious teachings combined with divination guides, mantras and protective prayers.

Mystical presentation of the name Allah, in a compendium of Islamic works, late 18th-early 19th century
Mystical presentation of the name Allah, in a compendium of Islamic works, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, MSS Jav 69, f. 40v Noc

The manuscripts to be digitised also include 13 from the collection of Raffles, comprising fragments of literary works, copies of Old Javanese inscriptions, and notes on language. Raffles, Mackenzie and Crawfurd all collected manuscripts in order to support their researches. In their publications – such as Raffles’ History of Java (1817) and Crawfurd’s Grammar and Dictionary of the Malay language (1852) and his Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries (1856) – references to the manuscripts in their own collections can be traced, but many other ‘works in progress’ remained unpublished. Mackenzie never published anything of substance arising out of his Javanese collections, while among Crawfurd’s manuscripts to be digitised are three volumes of materials for a planned grammar and dictionary of Javanese which never fully materialised.

English-Javanese dictionary compiled by John Crawfurd
A glimpse of an English-Javanese dictionary compiled by John Crawfurd, before 1851. British Library, Add 18577, f. 123r Noc

Account of the family of the late regent of Tuban, in Javanese
Punika atur pratela kawula Adipati Sura Adinagara Bupati ing Lasem, ‘Account of the family of the late regent of Tuban’, collected by Raffles. British Library, MSS Jav 100, f. 3r Noc

The Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project will also digitise around 17 manuscripts mostly dating from the second half of the 19th century, comprising more recent acquisitions in the British Library. These include an illustrated volume of Panji stories, probably from the north coast of Java, a collection of drawings of wayang figures, and a number of Islamic texts copied on local treebark paper (dluwang), most likely from an educational (pesantren) milieu.

Illustration from a Panji romance, 1861
A foreign Balinese soldier confronting Urawan, who is actually Panji's wife in male disguise; an illustration from a Panji romance, 1861. British Library, Or 15026, f. 69r Noc

Over the coming year, the British Library will be working with partners in Indonesia, especially with the National Library of Indonesia (Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia or Perpusnas), the very active Indonesian Association of Manuscript Scholars MANASSA, and DREAMSEA (Digital Repository of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia), to broaden awareness and usage of these new resources, including through a conference to be held in Indonesia.  Selected newly-digitised Javanese manuscripts from the British Library will also be transliterated in cooperation with the Lestari Literary Foundation (Yayasan Sastra Lestari) and will be made accessible through the pioneering portal for Javanese literature, Sastra Jawa.

All the manuscripts to be digitised over the coming year through the Bollinger Javanese Manuscripts Digitisation Project are listed on the Digital Access to Javanese Manuscripts page. As each manuscript becomes accessible, the shelfmark will be hyperlinked directly to the digitised images. This post has highlighted some of the most interesting and beautiful manuscripts which will soon be available online to be read in full – or even just to be gazed at and enjoyed as a visual feast.  

References:

T.E. Behrend, Frontispiece architecture in Ngayogyakarta: notes on structure and sources. Archipel, 2005, (69): 39-60.
M.C. Ricklefs, P. Voorhoeve and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.
Sri Ratna Saktimulya, Naskah-Naskah Skriptorium Pakualaman periode Paku Alam II (1830-1858). Jakarta: KPG (Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia), Ecole française d’Extrrême Orient, Perpustakaan Widyapustaka, Pura Pakualaman, 2016.
Donald E.Weatherbee. An inventory of the Javanese paper manuscripts in the Mackenzie Collection, India Office Library, London, with a note on some additional Raffles MSS. SEALG Newsletter, 2018, pp. 80-111.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

 

09 May 2022

From Georgian Slave to Safavid Master: Some Possible Additions to the Corpus of Siyavush Beg Gurji

Today's guest blog is jointly written by Jaimee Comstock-Skipp (Leiden University PhD candidate) and Asim Saeed (Independent Researcher)

Siyavush Beg Gurji (c.1536–1616), a brilliant but elusive maestro from the Safavid era, has intrigued scholars for half a decade. Initiated by Anthony Welch in findings published nearly 50 years ago, some pages from a dispersed manuscript located in private German and Danish collections help widen our understanding of this individual, and the state of the arts in Iran at the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century.

Fig 1 Garshasp and Zahhak. Or 12985  f74v Fig 2 Ardavan before Ardashir  IO Islamic 966  f.  360v
Fig. 1. Garshasp seated before Zahhak while the div, Minharas, is held prisoner (Or.12985, f. 74v). Public Domain
Fig. 2. Ardavan before Ardashir (IO Islamic 966, f. 360v). Public Domain

Born in Georgia, Siyavush Beg was brought to the first Safavid capital Tabriz where he trained to become a page. Upon the relocation of the Safavid court to Qazvin in 1548, Siyavush transferred there and continued his studies of calligraphy, illustration, painting, and poetry. He worked in the royal workshops to produce manuscripts for the shah and other courtiers and enjoyed royal support from subsequent Safavid monarchs up until 1590. He contributed three paintings to a copy of the Garshaspnamah of Asadi, which was an expansion of and complement to Firdawsi’s Shahnamah (dated 1573, fig. 1). Following these, Siyavush painted sumptuous illustrations for Shah Isma’il II's (r. 1576–1577) royal copy of the same work (dated 1576–77; dispersed), and afterward fulfilled non-courtly commissions.

During the lull in royal patronage of manuscript production in the late-1570s through the 1580s, Siyavush and his colleagues produced manuscripts for connoisseurs not related to the rulers. As a case in point, they worked on a copy of Khvandamir’s Habib al-Siyar (Friend of Biographies) that was produced in 1579 for Mirza Abu Talib ibn Mirza ʻAla al-Dawlat, a Tajik high official at the court in Qazvin (former Homberg collection, since dispersed). Elsewhere, a Khamsah of Nizami copied in 1549 for the Safavid financial secretary Ali Khan Beg Turkman (Morgan Library ms. M.836) has illustrations attributable to Siyavush c. 1579. Although not definitively associated with his hand, loose folios in his style are elsewhere scattered in collections (Pierpont Morgan Library ms. M.386.7r) and have appeared at auction (Christie’s, 10 October 2013, lot 29). It is believed that Siyavush Beg formally retired in the 1590s and headed to Shiraz where he is believed to have added to some projects prior to his death in around 1616.

In sum, up until now Siyavush Gurji’s official output has totalled fewer than thirty illustrations over a period of seven decades. However, it is hard to believe a richly gifted artist, passionately engaged with painting under four different Safavid monarchs (Tahmasp I, Isma’il II, Muhammad Khudabanda, and ʻAbbas I), and spending almost his entire life under royal aegis could produce work for only three manuscripts. To him we might also now credit illustrations in a second Khamsah of Nizami (Topkapi Palace Library ms. R.881, circa 1590–1610); and illustrations in two copies of Qazi Ahmad’s Gulistan-i Hunar, a treatise on calligraphers and painters (one in the Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow, and the other formerly in the collection of Clara C. Edwards). Furthermore, a group of Shahnamah manuscripts also reflect his artistic practices and stylistic details. Although they are unsigned, their illustrations repeating compositions and figures fit comfortably in his corpus, and suggest either his own participation or perhaps that of a colleague working closely alongside him.

These Shahnamah copies sharing common circumstances of production include the following:

  • British Library IO Islamic 966, with colophon dated 1604, page size 370 x 235 mm, figs. 2, 5, 9, 11
  • Kuwait’s al-Sabah Collection, Inv. No. LNS 233, no colophon, page size 350 x 235 mm
  • Yahuda Collection of the Israel Museum (ms. 120) dated 1617
  • Newly discovered illustrations, held in private collections, from a single dispersed Shahnamah manuscript (here labelled MS Exhibit 369 B) whose illustrations, compositions, and dimensions (averaging 355 x 240 mm) closely relate to the other Shahnamah works, as well as the above-mentioned Garshaspnamah  (Fig. 1, Or. 12985, page size 348 x 235 mm)

All these works have been attributed by scholars to be of Safavid origin and contain specific elements from the workshops of Qazvin on the cusp of artistic innovations originating in Isfahan. Although lacking an artist’s signature, they are apparently prepared in the late sixteenth century, and several folios across them have identical figures and compositional layouts.

Fig 3. Siyavashs fire ordeal. Exhibit 369 B Fig 4. Siyavash fire ordeal. LNS 233  f.42 r Fig 5 Siyavash fire ordeal  IO Islamic 966  f97r
The fire ordeal of Siyavush.
Fig. 3.  Exhibit 369 B, f. 114v © the owner
Fig. 4. LNS 233, f. 42r © The al- Sabah Collection, Dar al- Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait
Fig. 5. IO Islamic 966, f. 97r, Public Domain

Figs. 3–5 depict the famous fire ordeal of the character Siyavush, where he is asked to ride through the blazing fire in order to prove his innocence against accusations levied by his step mother. Siyavush rides through the flames with his head turned back in all three images. The galloping black horse with a yak tail hanging from the neck, the decorated saddle and the whip in rider's hand, the astonished solider with his raised hands are obvious similarities. One wonders if some pouncing or stencilling techniques were applied. The common painter of these is posited to be one individual who follows a composition from Shah Tahmasp's famous Shahnamah as a model (now held in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran). However, they are simpler versions, and could have been carried out by Siyavush Beg or his colleague.

Fig 6 Tus and Giv witht the maiden lady. Exhibit 369 B Fig 7. LNS 233  f.97r
Tus and Giv and the maiden lady.
Fig. 6. Exhibit 369 B, f. 109r © the owner
Fig. 7. LNS 233 MS, f. 97r © The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait.

Other illustrations from ms. Exhibit 369 B, the British Library, and Kuwait collection have much in common. They share similar compositions, colour tones, heavily outlined backgrounds in which purple and pink towering masses of rocks at times overflow into the margins. Tadpole clouds populate golden and blue skies, dark green grounds are spotted with radiant flowers, above which short flame-like trees emerge (figs. 6-7). Old maple trees with bulky trunks brim with autumnal leaves (figs. 8-9).

Fig 8 Dying Rustam. Exhibit 369 B Fig 9 Death of Rustam  IO Islamic 966_f323v
The death of Rustam.
Fig. 8. Exhibit 369 B, f. 386v © the owner
Fig. 9. IO Islamic 966, f. 323v, Public Domain

In another famous episode of the Shahnamah, Tahmina is seen visiting Rustam's chamber in figs. 10 and 11 which again bear striking similarities. Upon close observation, the version in the private collection reveals some extraordinary features. A superbly sketched simurgh (the mythical bird of the Shahnamah) on Rustam's blanket (fig. 12) displays the artist’s genius and outstanding drawing skills (perhaps Siyavush’s), as he effectively connects the past with the present through a simple yet powerful image. In this folio as in the British Library’s copy, two towering cypress trees breach the upper margins above the richly decorated interiors with pink and lavender wall paintings. They both have elaborately detailed grounds covered in animal and foliate motifs. Cypress trees play an effective role in the images both visually and symbolically, for they are associated with the stature of heroes in classical poetry. The tree is also a symbol of immortality, eternity, grandeur, strength, and manliness. Tahmina's tryst with Rustam following her depicted arrival leads to the birth of their son Suhrab, one of the most known characters of the Shahnamah.

Fig 10. Daughter of the king of Samangan  Exhibit 369 B Fig 11. Rustam and Tahmina. IO Islamic 966_f79v
Tahmina visits Rustam.
Fig. 10. Exhibit 369 B, f. 93v © the owner
Fig. 11. IO Islamic 966, f. 79v, Public Domain

Fig 12. Close up of Simurgh
Fig. 11. Close up of Rustam's covering

There are many other parallels across these Shahnamah manuscripts that have been noted elsewhere, but it is worth exploring how their common illustrations came about. Regarding the style of Siyavush-like paintings in the British Library IO Islamic 966, Basil Robinson credits the unnamed artist as a “young Isfahani.” Isfahan became the site of the new Safavid capital in 1598 and an innovative artistic style popularized by Siyavush’s younger colleague, the artist Reza Abbasi, emerged there early on after the power shifted from Qazvin. The scholar Barbara Schmitz has since modified Robinson’s “young Isfahani” attribution to an “old Qazvini” artist working alone in a style that had by the early 1600s gone out of fashion. Whether or not it was Siyavush, this same individual executed the majority of the miniatures in this copy dated 1604. Robinson has also attributed three miniatures of the British Library’s Garshaspnamah to this same “young Isfahani” which Norah M. Titley has contested to be the work of Siyavush Beg. Aditionally, the scholars Adel T. Adamova and Manijeh Bayani have convincingly proposed Siyavush Beg as the possible illustrator of the Shahnamah copies in the British Library and Kuwait (see Ademova and Bayani, cat. 32, 459 - 486). They suggest that Siyavush set to work to illustrate the Kuwait version sometime prior to 1600, almost twenty years after he contributed to Shah Isma’il II’s Shahnamah. He would have next begun working on the British Library manuscript dated 1604. They stylistically justify their argument by noting how the artist followed conventions originating in the Qazvin school of painting. The hitherto never-before referenced paintings of MS Exhibit 369 B carry striking similarities to both the London and Kuwait manuscripts, and we can insert this new Shahnamah material and others into the trajectory delineated above.

Sometime between 1579 and 1604, the “young Isfahani”/ “old Qazvini” Siyavush Beg may have busied himself with yet another magnificent Shahnamah, that of MS Exhibit 369 B. Perhaps up until his final days, he might have contributed to the Shahnamah copy in the Israel Museum that was completed a year after his death. Though not much can be said with absolute certainty about the production of manuscript Exhibit 369 B, on stylistic grounds the illustrations appear to have been produced by Siyavush Beg or a painter working alongside him during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Their sumptuousness vouches for an expensive production affordable to a prince or an aristocrat who could employ elite artists and cover the expenses of their studio.

Our conclusions are based on stylistic comparisons and the upsurge of sub-royal patrons who were commissioning richly illustrated manuscripts in parallel or in competition with princely ateliers during the second half of the sixteenth century. Economics impact arts, and one reason for the increase in such sub-royal productions was the lack of reliable royal patronage during the reign of the feeble and almost blind Safavid Shah Muhammad Khudabanda (r.1578–1587). Another possible owner of the manuscript in question could be that of the artist producing it himself; having made other copies to sell, perhaps he enjoyed his own compositions so much that he directly duplicated them.

Within these four manuscripts, the same figures frequent compositions, clad in rich garments with delicately sketched hands and rendered movements, bulky turbans and fur collars. Animals populate compositions, especially the meticulously drawn horses and foxes with fluffy tails. There are soldiers in helmets, kings in crowns, archers, and musicians. Stylistically, the most decisive element that links all of the paintings is the near perfect sense of weight and balance by the painter. Also common is the unbroken brush movement and the use of colour that is thoroughly typical of the Qazvin palette, and the painter’s penchant for transgressing the text frame and extending images into the margins. Although he did not physically sign these works with letters comprising his name, Siyavush’s hand and influence can be identified in these illustrations and bear his hallmarks.

With special thanks to Katja Preuss for her generous contributions & guidance, the Cambridge Shahnama Project and some wonderful friends.

Asim Saeed (Independent Researcher) and Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp (Leiden University PhD candidate)
 ccownwork copy

Contact Asim: artmusekhi@gmail.com

Contact Jaimee: Academia.edu

Further reading:

Adamova, Adel T., and Manijeh Bayani, Persian Painting: the Arts of the Book and Portraiture. Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah: The Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2015.
Babaie, Sussan, et al., Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.
Qazi Ahmad,  Golestān-e honar, tr. Vladimir Minorsky as Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qāḍī Aḥmad, Son of Mīr-Munshī, Washington, D.C., 1959.

Robinson, B.W. “Shah Ismail II's Copy of the Shahnama.” Iran 14 (1976): 1-8.
———— “Shah Ismail II's Copy of the Shahnama: Additional Material.” Iran 43 (2005): 291-299.
Schmitz, Barbara. Islamic and Indian Manuscripts and paintings in The Pierpont Morgan Library. New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library, 1997.
Titley, Norah. “A Manuscript of the Garshāspnāmeh.” The British Museum Quarterly 31:1/2 (Autumn 1966): 27-32
————Persian Miniature Painting and its Influence on the Arts of Turkey and India. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984.
Welch, Anthony. Artists for the Shah: Late Sixteenth Century Painting at the Imperial Court of Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.