This page from an anthology of Persian poetry illustrates a poem about the moon entering the houses of the twelve zodiac signs. In the three scenes illustrated here, the moon is shown visiting the Sagittarius, depicted as an archer who shoots an arrow against his own dragonlike tail, Capricorn, and finally the planet Saturn (the water carrier, or Aquarius) lifting a bucket from a well.
This illustrated page was originally part of a compilation of poems assembled by the Persian intellectual and poet Muhammad ibn Badr al-Din Jajarmi and titled Mu’nis al-ahrar fi daqa’iq al-ash‘ar (Free Man’s Companion to the Subtleties of Poems).
Internal evidence in the manuscript strongly suggests that Jajarmi was in Isfahan when he copied the text, and its colophon states that he finished it in Ramadan A.H. 741/February–March 1341 A.D. It is therefore one of the few dated illustrated texts from the Ilkhanid period and the only surviving one that can be attributed to Isfahan. The codex, known to scholars since 1914, was in the Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya, al-Sabah Collection, in Kuwait City acquired it through Sotheby’s London in 1979.
The manuscript currently contains a double-page figural frontispiece showing a princely couple in a mature though provincial Ilkhanid style. However, the six pages that once formed chapter 29 of this poetic anthology—the only other illustrated folios in an otherwise strictly textual work—were detached early in the twentieth century and purchased by five different institutions in the United States.
Once reconstructed, chapter 29 includes a fascinating and rare example of pictorial poetry, an astrological poem, and a final ruba‘i (quatrain). The two folios in the Metropolitan Museum (acquired in 1919 and 1957) cover almost the entire astrological Poem, which explains in rhyme the most appropriate things to do when the Moon is in conjunction with each of the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Illustrated here is the verso of the folio that includes the text and images of Sagittarius, Capricorn, and Aquarius. Didactically arranged on the left facing a female figure who holds a crescent around her head to represent the Moon, the three signs are easy to identify, respectively, as an archer who shoots an arrow against his own dragonlike tail, a kid with long curved horns, and the planet Saturn (the water carrier) lifting a bucket from a well. Each rectangular vignette is set against a red background sparsely filled with large plants. As an example, the poet says: "When the Moon is in Aquarius, if you have money / Buy furnishings and goods and Indian slaves. / To see agents and sheikhs is good. / There is a ban on bleeding, hunting, marriage, and travel."
Stefano Carboni (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: -Translation of Persian text:
"With the Moon in Virgo, writing and teaching are good,
Seeing scribes and astrological calculations.
Bleeding and travel and building are good.
"Make marriages, wear new clothes," the wise man said.
"With the Moon in Libra, making marriages is good, and journeys,
The seeing of women and noble servants.
Donning new clothes and merriment are good,
And it is better to shun the making of pacts."
"With the Moon in Scorpio, taking medicine is good,
To make war and use wiles against one's enemies.
Stay at home. Do not travel. Do not put on new clothes.
It is good to plant new trees."
"When the Moon comes to the sign of Sagittarius
Make your requests from judges and men of learning.
Buy slaves, make marriages, and visit the bath.
Do not take medicine or weaken yourself with toil."
"When the Moon has come to Capricorn, hold entertainments.
Dig qanats and canals, if you are able.
Buy slaves and animals, if you have the money.
Toil to acquire learning; do not behave ignorantly."
"With the Moon in Aquarius, if you have money,
Buy furnishings and goods and Indian slaves.
To see agents and sheikhs is good.
There is a ban on bleeding, hunting, marriage making and travel."
(Translated by A. H. Morton in Swietochowski and Carboni, "Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images". NY: MMA, 1994)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Islamic Miniature Painting," October 10, 1933–January 7, 1934, no catalogue.
The Iranian Institute. "Exhibition of Persian Art," 1940, Gal. VIII, 31.
Venice. Fondazione Giorgio Cini. "Miniature Islamiche dal XIII al XIX Secolo," 1962, no. 30.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images: Persian Painting of the 1330s and 1340s," February 1, 1994–May 1, 1994, no. 6 a-f.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," October 28, 2002–February 16, 2003, no. 10.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," April 13, 2003–July 27, 2003, no. 10.
Dimand, Maurice S. "Islamic Miniature Painting and Book Illumination." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin vol. XXVIII, no. 10 pp. 166-171.
Dimand, Maurice S. "New York, October 9 through January 7, 1933–1934." In A Guide to an Exhibition of Islamic Miniature Painting and Book Illumination. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1933. p. 23.
Ackerman, Phyllis. "The Iranian Institute, New York." In Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art. 2nd. ed. New York: The Iranian Institute, 1940. no. Gallery VIII; case 31, p. 240.
Dimand, Maurice S. "New Accessions of Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 16 (April 1958). pp. 227-235, ill. p. 230, ill. in b/w of the recto of the page.
Grube, Ernst J. "from Collections in the United States and Canada." In Muslim Miniature Paintings from the XIII to XIX Century. Venice: N. Pozza, 1962. no. 30, pp. 40-41, ill. pl. 30A-B (b/w).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 128-29, ill. fig. 99 (color).
Swietochowski, Marie, Stefano Carboni, Tomoko Masuya, and Alexander H. Morton. "Persian Painting of the 1330s and 1340s." In Illustrated Poetry and Epic Images. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. no. 6a–f, pp. 42-45, ill. pp. 42, 45, (color).
Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila S. Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. no. 10, pp. 196-97, 246, ill. fig. 236 (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. 59, pp. 6, 89, 99, ill. p. 99 (color).