This exceptional painting on silk portrays four demonlike figures rendered in exacting, fantastic detail. A series of similar paintings have been preserved within albums in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace Library. Some of these display inscriptions, attributing the works to an artist called "Muhammad Siyah Qalam." While much of the material found in these albums may be attributable to late fifteenth-century Iran, the use of silk as a support for painting was rare in the region, suggesting these enigmatic paintings were produced elsewhere.
Painting on silk was a common practice in China but rare in Central Asia or Iran, which raises the question of where this picture was executed; its jagged lower margin suggests it has been forcibly removed from another context. The two pairs of crouching demons, each appearing to be in conversation, are compositionally and spatially independent of each other. All four have golden bands at their wrists or ankles. One of each pair is dark-skinned, with nearly human features (although one is horned), and both of these wear skirtlike garments. The other member of each pair is covered in soft fur or hair, and one has a tail. The pair on the right appears to be grinding something, perhaps grain, between a pair of stones. In depicting demonic figures against a plain background, this picture is reminiscent of certain examples preserved in Hazine 2153, an album in the Topkapı Palace Library. Painted on either paper or silk, these show similarly attired demons, some dark-skinned and others fur-covered, dancing, wrestling, fighting with one another, tending animals, and performing domestic chores. No text is associated with any of the demon paintings, although some carry attributions to a certain Muhammad Siyah Qalam, whose historical identity is uncertain. There is a group of pictures, depicting humans, that relate in their execution to the demon pictures. The human figures, who may be nomads, are shown preparing a meal, tending animals, or conversing. Muhammad Siyah Qalam is also credited with these scenes, which are now preserved in Hazine 2153 as well. The pictures and calligraphies in that album appear to have been collected in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, which provides an approximate date for the demon paintings. Although it has been posited that they come from Turkestan, a more precise definition of their origin and purpose has not yet been established. Priscilla P. Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Cağman, Filiz, and Zeren Tanındı. The Topkapi Saray Museum: The Albums and Illustrated Manuscripts. Translated and expanded by J. M[ichael] Rogers. 1979. Boston, 1986, pls. 81–90. 2. I bid., pls. 91–100. 3. Aslanapa, Oktay. "Türkische Miniaturmalerei am Hofe Mehmet des Eroberers in Istanbul." Ars Orientalis 1 (1954), pp. 81–82; and Ettinghausen 1954.
[ B. H. Breslauer, London, until 1968; sold to MMA]
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Notes on the Lusterware of Spain." Ars Orientalis vol. 1 (1954). pp. 91–103, pls. 24–26.
Swietochowski, Marie, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Notable Acquisitions 1965–1975 (1975). p. 132, ill. (b/w).
Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). p. 19, ill. p. 19 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 85, ill. fig. 63 (color).
Lentz, Thomas W., and Glenn D. Lowry. "Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century." In Timur and the Princely Vision. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1989. p. 232, ill. fig. 87 (b/w).
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. 122, p. 182, ill. p. 182 (color).
Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Symposia." In Sultans of the South: Art of India's Deccan Courts. Brugge, Belgium: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. p. 107, ill. fig. 3.