"Laila and Majnun at School", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami

Ja'far Baisunghuri (active first half 15th century)

Nizami (Ilyas Abu Muhammad Nizam al-Din of Ganja) (probably 1141–1217)
Object Name:
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
A.H. 835/ A.D. 1431–32
present-day Afghanistan, Herat
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Page: H. 12 5/16 in. (31.3 cm) W. 9 in. (22.9cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1994
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This splendid painting is from a manuscript of the frequently illustrated story of Laila and Majnun by the twelfth-century Persian poet Nizami of Ganja (a city in the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan). It was commissioned by the Timurid prince Baysunghur of Herat, one of the greatest bibliophiles in all Islamic history, who gathered at his court the very best painters from Baghdad, Tabriz, Shiraz, and Samarkand to illustrate his matchless collection of books. The illustration depicts Qais, the future "mad one" (Majnun) for love, and Laila, his beloved, who meet for the first time as children at a mosque school. The painting underscores the closely related aesthetics of figural painting and abstract calligraphy, architectural tiling and royal carpet weaving in traditional Islamic civilization, united here in a visual symphony of flat but dramatically colored patterns. The scene depicts the child lovers framed in the mosque's prayer niche in order to emphasize their mystical status. These visual conventions of Persian art, usually laden, as here, with Neoplatonic symbolism, crystallized in the royal cities of Tabriz and then Herat at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and endured for another 250 years in the court paintings of Iran, Turkey, and India.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: Colophon signed by Ja'far, "at Herat" and dated 835 A. H. (A.D. 1432)

    Inscription: Location: The opening page and in bands in miniature.
    Style: Nasta'liq, naskha, and kufic
    Translation: The architectural inscriptions in Arabic on gold bands are translated as follows: under the dome: The Prophet -may God pray for him and bless him- said: "Your welfare comes from your knowledge of the Qur'an, and its knowledge is veracity."
    Side wall: God...said: "And the mosque's are Allah's, so call not upon (anyone) with Allah" (LXXXII: 48).
    Minaret, upper band: Allah is the greatest.
    Minaret, lower band: The prayer is the pillar of religion
    Niche in back wall, in kufic script: The reign is God's only.Over side door, in kufic script: The recollection of the encounter is upon...(?)

    Marking: Calligraphed by Ja'far with dedication to Prince Baisunghur(d.1433)

  • Provenance

    Prince Baisunghur, Herat, present-day Afghanistan (1432–d. 1433); Ebadollah Bahari, London (1960s–1994; sold to MMA)

  • See also