Seated on his throne under a colorful canopy, the king Khusrau Parviz holds court. Toward the middle of the composition, a pair of figures captures our attention. A bearded man holds an inscribed paper in one hand, while a young man applies ink to a seal ring on the other. This action likely identifies the bearded man as a chancery scribe, or courtier, entrusted with writing official correspondence and affixing the ruler’s seal.
The colophon of the manuscript from which this folio comes establishes that the book was copied by Sultan Muhammad Nur in A.H. 931/1524–25 A.D., a date that also appears in an architectural inscription on one of its paintings. This concurrence suggests that the work was copied and illustrated at almost the same time. Since Sultan Muhammad Nur spent most of his life in Herat, the manuscript was probably produced there. The Timurid dynasty had officially ended in 1506 with the death of its last effective ruler, but aspects of its artistic and literary culture survived for several decades. While some of the illustrations in the manuscript are formulaic, others continue the interest in portraiture initiated in Timurid Herat.
Two scenes from the life of Khusrau Parviz, the hero of the Khamsa’s second section, are of particular interest. In the one shown here (fol. 64a), depicting an open-air court reception, the importance of the enthroned ruler is stressed by the colorful canopy over his head and the elaborately patterned carpet under his throne. The faces of some of the courtiers who stand beside or below his throne have a portraitlike specificity, including that of the bearded man holding a piece of paper in his raised left hand while a youth applies ink to the ring on his extended right hand. These actions identify the man as a chancery scribe entrusted with the transcription and sealing of official correspondence. His unusual prominence implies that he may have been the patron of the manuscript, but further research is needed to link either him or the seated ruler with any specific person.
The other painting of particular interest (184.108.40.206, fol. 104a) contains the date of A.H. Rajab 931/April–May 1525 A.D. and celebrates the union of Khusrau and Shirin, who are seated within an ornately decorated palace. The facade of the building is inscribed with verses appropriate to the occasion that extol the "lofty chamber of nuptial bliss." In addition, the inscription contains puns on the name Shirin, which means "sweetness," comparing Khusrau’s bride to rosewater and sugar.
The elaborate leather binding of the manuscript also links it to the bookmaking traditions of Timurid Herat. The exterior covers depict a landscape inhabited by birds and animals, a common theme on book bindings since the mid-fifteenth century. Inscriptions impressed in cartouches around the periphery of the outer binding allude to the text it encloses, the Khamsa of Nizami. Geometric and vegetal filigree patterns of cut-leather, silhouetted against a blue paper ground, appear on the interior of the covers.
Priscilla P. Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
F. R. Martin, Sweden; Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
New York. Asia Society. "Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Safavid Iran," October 16, 2003–January 18, 2004, no. 4.20.
Valentiner, William Reinhold. "The Cochran Collection of Persian Manuscripts." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 8 (1913). pp. 80-86.
Dimand, Maurice S. Persian Miniatures. A Picture Book. Metropolitan Museum of Art Picture Books. New York, 1940. ill. fig. 13 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 47, ill. fig. 24 (b/w).
Brend, Barbara. "Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsa." In Perspectives on Persian Painting. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. p. 190.
Thompson, Jon, and Sheila R. Canby, ed. "Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501–1576." In Hunt for Paradise. Milan; New York: Skira , 2003. no. 4.20, pp. 104-105, ill. p. 105 (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. 135, pp. 4, 197-198, ill. p. 198 (color).
Artist: Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217)Date: dated A.H. 931/A.D. 1524–25Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paperAccession: 220.127.116.11On view in:Gallery 455
Artist: Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217)Date: dated A.H. 931/A.D. 1524–25Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paperAccession: 18.104.22.168On view in:Not on view
Artist: Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217)Date: dated A.H. 931/ A.D. 1524–25Medium: Binding: leather; embossed; gold and color
Manuscript: ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Accession: 22.214.171.124On view in:Not on view
Artist: Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217)Date: A.H. 931/A.D. 1524–25Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, silver, and gold on paperAccession: 126.96.36.199On view in:Not on view