Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"A Nighttime Gathering", Folio from the Davis Album

Painting by Muhammad Zaman (active 1649–1700)
Object Name:
Illustrated album leaf
dated 1664–65
Made in Iran, Isfahan
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Page: H. 13 1/8 in. (33.3 cm) W. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915
Accession Number:
Not on view
According to new research this painting by the late Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman depicts a comet streaking across the sky while two scholars and their Indian attendants confer by candlelight. Signed and dated 'the year 7', this work may have been executed in the seventh regnal year of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707) and may record the first of two comets sighted in the northern hemisphere in December 1664 and April 1665. Perhaps Muhammad Zaman produced this image in India, or perhaps he painted it in Iran and reflected the eclectic taste his patron, Shah 'Abbas II, which combined European and Mughal Indian elements.
So influential was the distinctive and innovative style fostered by the late Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman that the works of his many followers are sometimes difficult to distinguish from his own—particularly since they are often inscribed, in the manner of the master, with the words ya sahib al-zaman ("O master of the Age," a pious exclamation). Although this nighttime visitation scene is signed by Zaman in a different formula, the eclectic style and Indian-influenced subject matter are characteristic of his hand.[1]
Muhammad Zaman’s career spanned the second half of the seventeenth century, a period during which he was in favor at the Persian court of Shah Sulaiman (r.1666–94) at Isfahan. Scholarly interest in the artist goes back almost a century, with various theories posited to explain his hybrid idiom and interest in foreign painting styles.[2] Speculations as to the origins of European elements in Zaman’s work included early suggestions that he was sent to Rome to study painting or, alternatively, that European sources were available to him in Isfahan. More recent scholarship has suggested that his farangi-sazi (European mode) reflects his own interpretive response to the text being illustrated.[3] Less explored, however, are the sources of the distinct Indian elements also seen in his painting style and subject manner.
Loosely based on an Indian Mughal-style composition, this painting shows a group of figures ( possibly two learned astronomers and their attendants) meeting in a glade. It belongs to a group of compositionally interrelated nocturnes by Zaman that demonstrate how the artist developed a favorite technical device, that of the play of light and shadow.[4] Here, in a chiaroscuro effect, the light thrown off from the lamp at the center creates a strong contrast between the figures in the foreground and the dark landscape behind.[5]
One of the most remarkable features of this work is the presence of a comet with a long trail in the night sky. Barely discernible in the dark background landscape are three figures, one with a raised hand, who seemingly observe the celestial phenomenon. Two such comets are known to have traversed the northern hemisphere in this period, one in December 1664 and the other in April 1665.[6] The date of the first comet coincides with the seventh regnal year of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707), which ended on March 7, 1665, and supports Robert Skelton’s claim that the "year 7" written at the lower left refers to that emperor’s reign (the second comet would have been seen in Aurangzeb’s eighth regnal year). This is partly the basis for his speculation that Zaman, and perhaps a larger group of Persian painters, may have been in Kashmir during the mid-1660s.
Zaman’s Indianized mode also reflects a wider taste for such motifs and styles at Isfahan, as apparent in the painted works of at least five other artists of the period: Shaikh ‘Abbasi, his sons ‘Ali Naqi and Muhammad Taqi, Bahram Sufrakish, and ‘Ali Quli Jabbadar. In addition, this vogue extended into contemporaneous architectural decoration and textile design. Much remains to be determined about the circulation and influence of Mughal paintings, as well as about the wider patterns of Indian-Persian patronage in Isfahan during the period.
The Davis Album, from which this painting comes, contains a similar composition by ‘Ali Quli Beg Jabbadar that, although not an exact copy, illustrates the same subject matter in a closely related style. The album consists overall of thirty-three miniature paintings and one drawing, several mounted in bold floral borders, that were once bound in nineteenth-century Persian lacquer covers. Among the notable works in the album are paintings attributable to Persian artists, including ‘Ali Quli Beg Jabbadar and Shaikh ‘Abbasi in addition to Muhammad Zaman; a group of folios from a dispersed sixteenth-century Akbarnama manuscript (the bulk of which is in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin); and a collection of mid-seventeenth-century Mughal-style paintings depicting courtly scenes.[7]
Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. See, for example, Makariou, Sophie, ed. Nouvelles acquisitions, arts de l’Islam, 1988–2001. Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquites Orientales; Catalogue. Paris, 2002, pp. 91–93, no. 55, pl. 18.
2. Landau, Amy S. "Farangi-Sazi at Isfahan: The Court Painter Muhammad Zaman, the Armenians of New Julfa and Shah Sulayman (1666–1694)." Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 2006, and Sims, Eleanor. "Toward a Monograph on the Seventeenth-Century Iranian Painter Muhammad Zaman ibn Haji Yusuf." Islamic Art (2001), pp. 183–99, list much of the scholarship on the artist, which also includes Martinovich, Nicholas N. "The Life of Mohammad Paolo Zaman, the Persian Painter of the Seventeenth Century." Journal of the American Oriental Society 45 (1925), pp. 106–9; Skelton, Robert. "Migrations of Miniature Painters Between Iran and India the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries." Unpublished lecture, VIth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeology, Oxford, 1972; Ivanov, A. A. "The Life of Muhammed Zaman: A Reconsideration." Iran 17 (1979), pp. 65–70; Zuka, Yahya. "Muhammad Zaman: Avvalin naqqashi-i Irani ki ba-urupa raft’." Sukhan 12, no. 9–10 (1962), n.p.; Diba, Layla S[oudavar]. "Lacquerwork of Safavid Persia and Its Relationship to Persian Painting." Ph.D. diss., [Institute of Fine Arts], New York University, 1994; Qaisar, Ahsan Jan. "Muhammad Zaman: A Seventeenth Century Controversial Artist." In Art and Culture: Endeavours in Interpretation, edited by Ahsan Jan Qaisar and Som Prakash Verma, pp. 79–92. New Delhi, 1996; and Adle, Chahryar. Écriture de l’union reflets de temps des troubles: Oeuvre picturale (1083–1124/1673–1712) de Haji Mohammad. Paris, 1980..
3. Landau, Amy S. "From Poet to Painter: Allegory and Metaphor in a Seventeenth Century Painting by Muhammad Zaman, Master of Farangi-sazi’." Muqarnas 28 (2011), forthcoming; also Canby, Sheila [R]. "Farangi Saz: The Impact of Europe on Safavid Painting." In Silk and Stone: The Art of Asia, pp. 46–59. The Third Hali Annual. London, 1996..
4. Makariou, ed. 2002 (footnote 1), pp. 91–93, no. 55, discusses a similar work at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
5. Landau 2011 (footnote 3), p. 19.
6. Kronk, Gary W. Comets: A Descriptive Catalogue. 1984. Hillside, N.J.,1998, pp. 10–11, describes the 1664 comet, which was also observed by Isaac Newton. Tavernier, Jean Baptiste. Travels in India. Translated by V[alentine] Ball. 2 vols. London and New York, 1889 , vol. 1, p. 309, describes the second comet.
7. The Davis Album itself and other evidence relating to it are presently being researched by the author, with a forthcoming publication intended.
Signature: Signed by Muhammad Zaman (active 1649–1700)

Inscription: Signature in Persian in nasta‘liq script at lower right:
رقم کمینه غلام محمد زمان
The humble slave Muhammad Zaman drew it

At lower left:
فی سنه 7
In the year 7 [A.D. 1664–65]
Theodore M. Davis, New York (by 1914–d. 1915; bequeathed to MMA)
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. 190, pp. 5, 271-272, ill. p. 271 (color).

Landau, Amy S. "Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts." In Pearls on a String. Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 2015. p. 247.

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