"Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness", Folio from the Divan of Hafiz
Hafiz (probably 1325/6–90)
Painting by Sultan Muhammad (active first half 16th century)
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Attributed to Iran, Tabriz
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Painting: H. 8 1/2 in. (21.6 cm)
W. 5 15/16 in. (15.1 cm)
Page: H. 11 3/8 in. (28.9 cm)
W. 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm)
Painting: H. 7 in. (17.8 cm)
W. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm)
Page: H. 11 1/4 in. (28.6 cm)
W. 7 1/4 in. (18.4 cm)
Mat: H. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
W. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
Jointly owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch Jr., 1988
Not on view
Sultan Muhammad, the most innovative painter of early sixteenth-century Iran, illustrates the verses by the mystical poet Hafiz by employing his characteristic sense of humor and extreme attention to detail. The tavern party, complete with ecstatic dancers, singers and overindulgent drinkers, is given a new meaning by the presence of angels on top of the pavilion, suggesting that the state of drunkenness can be likened to that of spiritual enlightenment. As a Sufi symbol, wine stands for heaven's divine light and the cup into which it is poured, for the devotee's heart.
This painting of a drinking party at a tavern, which includes ecstatic dancing, full-throated singing, and figures who have overindulged in wine to the point of collapse, could pass as a simple illustration of debauchery were the roof of the pavilion not inhabited by angels. The presence of these heavenly creatures, daintily partaking of wine themselves, casts the scene in a different light, one in which the state of mind achieved through drunkenness can be likened to enlightenment rather than surrender to one’s base desires. The manuscript of the collected poems of Hafiz, one of Iran’s greatest mystical poets, was most likely illustrated in two phases. This page belongs to the second period, from about 1531 to 1533, when Sam Mirza, who is named in another illustration signed by the artist, had left Herat and spent the winters in Tabriz at the court of his brother, Shah Tahmasp.
The artist of this exceptional work, Sultan Muhammad, is thought to have directed the first phase of the illustration of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, which commenced about 1524 and ended about 1527. Sultan Muhammad was raised in Tabriz and taught Prince Tahmasp painting. While the vibrancy of his palette harks back to the royal Turkmen painting style of late fifteenth-century Tabriz, the structure of his composition demonstrates the ongoing synthesis of late Timurid painting, with its logical spatial organization, and the more emotionally intense Turkmen school. Sultan Muhammad’s work is characterized by a sense of humor, communicated through pose and expression, and painterly touches such as impasto used for turbans and extraordinarily fine brushstrokes for fur.
Here, the arrangement of the figures in the foreground follows the contours of the hexagonal pavilion. The three musicians at the left, their faces grotesque and bodies nearly bare except for their animal-skin capes, contrast with the men of all ages in their turbans and robes. Yet their music infuses both the occasion and the dancers with wild abandon. As one’s gaze rises to the second floor of the pavilion, the actions of the figures become more subdued—men pulling a jug up with a rope, a pair of youths sipping wine together, a bearded elder curled up and reading. Finally, the angels on the roof imbibe and blush but maintain their innocence.
Sheila R. Canby in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Signature in Persian in naskhi script, on door:
عمل سلطان محمد
The work of Sultan Muhammad
[ Tabbagh Frères, Paris and New York ]; Arthur Sambon, Paris (until 1914; his sale, Galerie GeorgesPetit, Paris, May 25–28, 1914, no. 189); Louis J. Cartier, Paris; Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch, Warner, NH (until 1988; gifted to MMA)
Cambridge, MA. Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums. "Wonders of the Age: Masterpieces of Early Safavid Painting," March 29, 1980–May 18, 1980, no. 44.
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Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. "Images of Paradise in Islamic Art," April 26, 1992–June 21, 1992, no. 44.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.
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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. 137, pp. 9, 200-202, ill. p. 201 (color).