Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Divan of Sultan Husayn Baiqara

Sultan 'Ali al-Mashhadi (active late 15th–early 16th century)
Object Name:
Non-illustrated manuscript
dated A.H 905/ A.D.1500
Made in present-day Afghanistan, Herat
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; lacquer binding
10 1/2 x 7 1/4in. (26.7 x 18.4cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Richard S. Perkins and Margaret Mushekian Gifts, 1982
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 455
This lavishly embellished manuscript comprises a collection (divan) of poetry composed by the late fifteenth-century Timurid ruler Sultan Husain Baiqara (r. 1470–1506) in eastern or Chaghatai Turkish. The calligraphic text, written on a variety of colorful papers mounted within elaborately stenciled and painted margins, was copied by one of Sultan Husain's favored calligraphers - Sultan 'Ali Mashhadi.
The city of Herat in northern Afghanistan flourished as a center of culture and learning during the reign of Timur’s great-grandson Husain Baiqara (1468–1506). This manuscript of the sultan’s poetry embodies two features characteristic of that epoch: the rise to literary prominence of Turki, the local Central Asian form of Turkish, and a focus on lavishly produced books. Husain’s royal status appears to have added luster to his poetry, which was collected not only by his subjects but also by the Ottoman sultans and the Mughal emperors. The works were also translated into Persian for the Safavid ruler Shah Sultan Husain I (r. 1694–1722).

Most manuscripts of Husain Baiqara’s poetry are arranged alphabetically by rhyme words, but they vary considerably in length and content. This example contains 138 ghazals, on forty-two folios, of the more than two hundred different ghazals known from various copies. It is appropriate that, as a ruler, Husain Baiqara would have his poetry produced in a particularly opulent fashion. Several copies, including the present example, were executed on colored and gold-sprinkled paper. This is one of three known manuscripts of his poetry that were made during his lifetime by his court calligrapher, Sultan ‘Ali al-Mashhadi.

Aside from its superb calligraphy, this copy is notable for the elaborate patterns—most highlighted with paint—that are stenciled on the margins of each page. One design features a scroll animated by masks and animal heads. Another shows five pairs of birds perched in flowering trees that appear to grow from the inner margins. A third features polylobed cartouches filled with arabesques and surrounded by flowering plants. Prior to the late fifteenth century, stenciling had been employed primarily to embellish the pages of the small, oblong poetry albums known as safinas. The traditional association of such albums with stenciled decoration may have influenced the person who gave this manuscript its lacquer-covered binding in A.H. 1300/1833 A.D. Perhaps not realizing that it contained the poetry of a single individual, the author of the verses on the interior of the binding praised it as a "colorful album."

Priscilla P. Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Signature: In the colophon: signed and dated by Sultan `Ali Mashhadi [see Inscriptions].

Inscription: - Signed on the last page: the lowliest slave Sultan `Ali Mashhadi -- may his sins be forgiven -- served in the writing of these (fortunate, blessed or happy, blissful) verses in the last third of the blessed month of Ramadan, 905 A.H. [late April 1500] in the capital Herat; then the remark in shikaste, dated 1300 A.H. [1833] that this is really in the handwriting of the "leader of calligraphers" Sultan `Ali. (Trans. by Annemarie Schimmel, 1985)

- Inscribed on lacquer binding, a dedication and a seal with the date A.H. 1300. The binding bears at its inner border identical Persian verses with a very complicated rhyme:
Thousand thanks that this colorful album from its beginning
To its end has reached as the heart of the friend wanted it
It is a beautiful album: never in the course of time
The checkered sky saw such an album
The nau-khatt (either "those who just learn writing" or "those with a fresh down") of Tibet and Khalk have taken the script (or "the blackness") from it
The pretty ones of Barbary and Barda` have taken lessons from it.
The pages were painted like the picture-house of Mani
And evident with clear meanings like the "moon of Muqanna`"
Their niceties (are) like pretty-faced beloveds
Who have hidden their cheeks in a veil and put their faces in a burqa`.
(Trans. by Annemarie Schimmel, 1985)
Philip Hofer, Cambridge, MA (until 1982; sold to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Perfect Page: The Art of Embellishment in Islamic Book Design," May 17, 1991–August 18, 1991, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament, Part IV: Figural Representation," September 16, 1999–January 30, 2000, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultan Ali of Mashhad, Master of Nasta'liq," January 19, 2001–May 27, 2001, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 92-93, ill. fig. 70 (color).

Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. (Summer 1992). pp. 36-37, ill. figs. 45 a, b.

Roxburgh, David J. "From Dispersal to Collection." In The Persian Album, 1400-1600. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2005. p. 173, ill. fig. 94 (color), f. 35b.

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. 129, pp. 191-192, ill. p. 191 (color).

Haidar, Navina. "Visual Splendour: Embellished Pages from the Metropolitan Museum 's Collection of Islamic and Indian Manuscripts." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). pp. 115-116, ill. fig. 14 (color).

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