Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"Muhammad Revives the Sick Boy", Folio from a Falnama (Book of Omens) of Ja'far al-Sadiq

Object Name:
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Attributed to Iran, Qazvin
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Painting: H. 23 1/16 in. (58.6 cm) W. 17in. (43.2cm) Mat : H. 28 in. (71.1 cm) W. 22 in. (55.9 cm) Frame: H. 30 1/2 in. (77.5 cm) W. 24 1/2 in. (62.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Francis M. Weld Gift, 1950
Accession Number:
Not on view
This illustration belonged to a Falnama, or book of divination, which was used to predict the future and tell fortunes. Once believed to be a depiction of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, the subject matter has now been identified as an event from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, who is shown veiled (a pictorial convention not applied to Jesus in the Islamic tradition). The illustration narrates the story of an old woman named Umm Mabid, shown crouching in the foreground, who begs Muhammad to heal her son. Muhammad is shown veiled and haloed in the center, healing the boy as onlookers watch in awe.
Massumeh Farhad, Serpil Bağci, and others have substantially clarified the context and meaning of the manuscript of the Falnama (Book of Omens) from which the large illustrations 50.23.1 and 35.64.3 come.[1] Farhad and Bağci have identified four Falnama manuscripts from Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey, produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including the dispersed copy attributed to Iran during the reign of Shah Tahmasp (1524–76).[2] The images from this Falnama, including this folio and 35.64.3, differ from other Safavid manuscript illustrations most obviously in their large size and in the scale of their pictorial elements. Yet, the use of these pictures for bibliomancy (fortune-telling with books) also affected the format of the manuscript and the relationship of images to text. As Farhad and Bağci have noted, each illustration in the dispersed Falnama precedes the text, which contains poetic couplets and prognostications in prose—an indication that the pictures could be interpreted with or without the aid of the text on the facing page. Although each image essentially stands alone and is not linked by a narrative thread to the text and image that precede or follow it, the subject matter of the dispersed Falnama illustrations does fall into definable categories, including "Muhammad and his descendants; tombs and sanctuaries; the Abrahamic prophets; sages, heroes, and villains; and eschatological themes."[3]
The practice of bibliomancy involved first making a wish or asking for guidance, then opening the book at random to a picture and the text facing it, which the seeker would interpret in light of his question. Seventeenth-century travelers describe diviners in public places in Iran and Turkey using images (but not text) to make prognostications for passersby. The arrangement of the Falnama from which these images come would have instead enabled an individual to consult both image and text without the need for an intermediary. According to Farhad and Bağci, Shah Tahmasp, the likely patron of this Falnama, was known to hold divination sessions with the women of the Safavid court. Such a large-scale Falnama would have suited these gatherings, since a group would have no trouble seeing whatever details were being employed to interpret the omen.
This folio, "Muhammad Revives the Sick Boy" appears in the section of the Falnama that Farhad and Bağci call "Islamic Traditions."[4] The painting, which has suffered from abrasion and being folded in half, depicts a figure whose face is veiled and encircled in a flaming aureole standing at the feet of a shrouded, gray-skinned youth in a coffin. The boy leans one arm on the side of the coffin while a bearded man supports his head. This scene has been described as Christ raising Lazarus,[5] but when images of the biblical prophets appear in the Falnama, they do not have veiled faces, while the Prophet Muhammad and the Imams do. The iconography accords better with one of the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. The story concerns Umma Mabid, the old woman shown here squatting before Muhammad and beseeching him to cure her son, which through prayer he succeeded in doing. As with other Falnama illustrations, the bystanders, including a bearded king, gesture and observe with amazement the main event, here the "miracle" Muhammad has performed.
Stuart Cary Welch and others have attributed the paintings in the dispersed Falnama to Aqa Mirak and ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, two of Shah Tahmasp’s court painters, but their authorship cannot be confirmed by any text or inscription. Nonetheless, many details of the ruined architecture, complete with storks’ nest and snakes, recall a painting from Shah Tahmasp’s Khamsa of Nizami (1539–43) assigned to Aqa Mirak by Welch.[6] Painted ten to fifteen years after the Khamsa, the Falnama marks a change in style that accompanies its distinct function. Not only are the folios significantly larger than those of earlier royal Safavid manuscripts, but so too are the figures and other pictorial elements, which are also closer to the picture plane than in either Tahmasp’s Shahnama or his Khamsa. Likewise, landscape elements have been simplified, as if to provide a backdrop and not a source of distraction from the main subject.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Farhad et al 2009.
2. Ibid., p. 28.
3. Ibid., p. 34.
4. Ibid., p. 117.
5. According to Metropolitan Museum records, a label on the back of the frame reads, "Jesus, la tête nimbée de la flamme prophétique ressuscitant Lazare qui sort de son tombeau, en présence du roi des Juifs et de nombreux personnages qui témoignent leur stupéfaction de ce miracle." See also Tokatlian 2007, pp. 56–57.
6. Welch 1979, pp. 138–41.
Inscription: Behind the page in Arabic language and in Nastaʻliq script
چه آمدست بفال تو هیچ میداني
شکوه آصفي و شوکت سلیماني
درین دو روزه فال نکو بیاری بخت
ز طالع تو برون میرود پریشاني
ای صاحب فال بدان که مجلس بهشت آیین حضرت سلیمان پیغمبر علی نبینا و علیه السلم بفال تو بر/
آمده است این فال دلیل جمعیت خاطر و رفع پریشاني باطن و ظاهر است و درین چند روز از بزرگي بتو فایدۀ کلي/
میرسد و از جایی که اصلاً گمان نداشته باشي چیزي بدست تو مي آید و هر غمي که تراست بشادي بدل میشود/
اگر این فال تز براي سفر است بسیار خوب است اما نوعي کن که آغاز سفر تو روز پنجشنبه باشد و اگر از براي بیمار است/
در شب جمعه در مجلسي که جماعتي از مومنان حاضر باشندالتماس فاتحه کن که البته صحتي کامل روي مي نماید و از براي هر/
نیتي دیگر که باشد مثل خرید و فروخت هر چیز و بإجاره چرفتن و بإجاره دادن زمین و باغ و خانه و شریک/
شدن و بسراي نو رفتن و حاجت خواستن از بزرگان و غیر ایشان بسیار بسیار نیکوست بي/
تأمل شروع مي باید کرد اما بازو بند حضرت سلیمان پیغمبر بن داود علی نبینا و علیهما السلم با خود نگاه/
دار تا از شر دیو و پري و آدمي محفوظ باشي و بمراد دل برسي انشاء الله و تعالی و تقدس
Up and down Two Turkish poem.

[ E. Hindamian, Paris, until 1950; sold to MMA]
Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). pp. 32-33, ill. p. 32 (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary, Sheila R. Canby, and Norah M. Titley. "Masterpieces of Early Safavid Painting, 1501–1576." In Wonders of the Age. Cambridge, MA: Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, 1979. pp. 138–41.

Tokatlian, Armen. Falnamah: Livre Royal des Sorts. Paris: Gourcuff Gradenigo, 2007. no. 22, pp. 56, 57, ill. (b/w).

Farhad, Massumeh, and Serpil Bagci. "Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery." In Falnama: The Book of Omens. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2009. no. 21, pp. 48, 116-7, ill. fig. 3.9, pl. 21.

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. 139A, pp. 209-211, ill. p. 210 (color).

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