This painting was donated to the Museum by Charles Wilkinson, a long-time curator of Islamic art and member of the Museum’s excavation team at the medieval Iranian city of Nishapur. The top of the painting is shaped to fit into an niche in a wall; it was part of a series of eight works made to decorate a room, all with the subject of love stories from famous Iranian poets. This painting depicting the classic story of Laila and Majnun would therefore originally have been accompanied by images of Yusuf and Zulaikha, Khusrau and Shirin, and other well-known lovers of Persian lore. Following the established imagery of Laila and Majnun, Majnun is shown here as a skeletal youth, who has retreated to the wilderness, where he lives surrounded by animals after his proposal of marriage is rejected by Laila’s father. The technique of oil painting on canvas, which was introduced into Iran in the late seventeenth century, was further developed and refined in the eighteenth century. Laila appears in clothing typical of that era.
Charles K. Wilkinson, New York (until d. 1986; bequeathed to MMA)
Binyon, Laurence, and Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja). The Poems of Nizami. London: The Studio, limited, 1928. p. 25.
Diba, Layla S., Maryam Ekhtiar, Basil William Robinson, and Brooklyn Museum. Royal Persian paintings : the Qajar epoch, 1785-1925. Brooklyn, NY: I.B.Tauris Publishers, 1998. no. 30, p. 162, ill. pl. 30 (color).