This folio illustrates the impact of Chinese art on the Iranian tradition as a result of the Mongol conquest. The decorative quality basic to Persian painting still prevails, as seen in the carefully balanced composition, the large floral forms, and the conceptual approach to the rendition of the sky, hanging curtain-like at the top of the picture. The pastel coloring, the large lotus blossoms, the little Chinese cloud band, and the beginnings of an attempt at spatial depth are derived from Far Eastern art.
This folio was once part of a manuscript of the Manafi‘ al-hayawan (On the Usefulness of Animals), a bestiary composed in the tenth century by Abu Sa‘id ibn Bakhtishu for the Abbasid caliph al-Muttaqi (r. 940–44). The text was especially popular during the thirteenth century; three of the earliest surviving manuscripts of this text were produced at that time, including the first Persian edition and the dispersed manuscript to which this folio belonged. The page is dominated by a bold illustration of two eagles with rich plumage; the first bird rests on the ground with his head turned back toward his mate, who is flying in his direction. The illustration is framed by a few lines of text that discuss the attributes of eagles, specifically the gestation period of the eagles’ eggs and the conditions under which they will hatch.
Created during the transformative phase of pictorial production that occurred during the rule of the Mongol Ilkhanids, this illustration fuses features of Arab painting with Chinese elements. The influence of Arab painting can be seen in the essentially decorative and two-dimensional quality of the landscape, especially in the canopy-like sky and the stylized stems and flowers. These characteristically Arab elements are combined with such Chinese influences as the strong, almost calligraphic, line, the delicate palette, and the concern for spatial relationships. The illustration also responds to the text, specifically in its inclusion of a stylized golden sun, which is described in the lines of script below the two eagles.
The cultural and political exchange between the new rulers of Iran, the Ilkhanids, and the Yuan dynasty in China, of whom the Ilkhanids were vassals, was largely responsible for the incorporation of Chinese motifs into the Ilkhanid artistic repertoire. Along with other motifs of Chinese inspiration, peonies, swirling cloud bands, and fantastic beasts like the phoenix—whose classical iconography with stretched wings appears to have inspired the shape of one of the birds in this composition—became part of the Ilkhanid and Islamic decorative repertoire at this time.
Francesca Leoni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The text’s original Arabic title is Kitab na‘t al-hayawan wa manafi‘ihi (Book of the Identification and Benefits of Animals).
2. The manuscript, now in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York (MS. M. 500), bears the date 1297–98 and was made during the reign of the Ilkhanid Ghazan Khan (1295–1304).
3. A second page from the same manuscript is also in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum (acc. no. 57.51.31).
Inscription: اگه (sic) سي و دو روز بر خایه نشیند و از مرغان هر آنچ گران تر باشد همچنین و هر آنچ میانه تر/ بیست و دو روز و اگه (sic) بیشتر سه خایه نهد و سه بچه بر آرد و یکي را بیندازد و مرغي هست/ استخوان شکن اورا بر دارد و ... کند هرچون اگه پیر شود و ... گردد و نتواند بر .../ بچگان ادا؟ بردارند و منزل منزل مي برند و تا آفتاب بر نیاید از جاي خو[د]ش نجنبد
[ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, by 1914–18; sold to MMA]
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 21, ill. fig. 2 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. Persian Miniatures. A Picture Book. Metropolitan Museum of Art Picture Books. New York, 1940. ill. fig. 1 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 29, ill. fig. 14 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. Publications, 36.. Lahore: The Panjabi Adabi Academy, 1964. p. 29, ill. fig 14 (b/w).
Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). p. 6, ill. p.6 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 70-71, ill. fig. 51 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 56, pp. 89, 95, ill. p. 95 (color).