"A Bathhouse Keeper is Consumed by Passion for his Beloved", Folio from a Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi
Amir Khusrau Dihlavi (1253–1325)
Painted by Nar Singh
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Made in present-day Pakistan, Lahore
Main support: Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper Margins: Gold on dyed paper
Image: H. 10 in. (25.4 cm) W. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm) Page: H. 11 1/4 in. (28.6 cm) W. 7 7/8 in. (20 cm) Mat: H. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm) W. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm)
Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913
Not on view
Matla’ al-Anwar (Rising of the Luminaries), the first poem of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi’s Quintet, is comprised of 3310 verses compiled approximately in twenty Maqalat (didactic discourses). Matla’ al-Anwar is a response by Amir Khusrau to Nizami Ganjavi’s Makhzan al-Asrar. Painted at Lahore by Nar sing, this painting shows a bathhouse keeper who falls in love when he sees the king on his visit with his retinue. Attention gained by the King, stokes the heat of mystical love that enflames the bathhouse keeper. The King and most of his entourage raise their index fingers in awe and surprise at the sight of the beholder. The painting has a border in siyah qalam (monochrome) style with deer, foxes, hares, and hunting lions in a naturalistic setting with birds perching in the trees.
Khusraw's remarks on the joys and travails of love, the subject of the eighth maqala, are epitomized in the parable of a lowly bathhouse keeper whose passion is kindled by a glimpse of a fair king. The king initially disregards the fire that he stoked so casually, but soon returns to the bathhouse when he himself is stirred by the heat of love. His passion sparked anew, the bathhouse keeper bursts into flames before his beloved.
Although the metaphor of burning passion is common to many cultures, it seldom assumes literal form in the phenomenal world, as it does in this rarely illustrated story. This full-page scene centers on the mounted king, who bites his finger in astonishment at the spectacle of the bathhouse keeper engulfed by flames. The domed bathhouse establishes the occupation of the tormented man even as it anchors the sloping yellow area of the fatal encounter. The king's large entourage plays a similar role, lending him the pageantry of elephants and attendants bearing a flywisk and other royal symbols while providing a measure of balance to the dark cityscape in the upper left. Only the two figures appropriately quenching their thirst at a well enjoy a respite from the consternation rippling through the crowd of retainers.
This painting highlights the strenghts of Narasimha, a portrait specialist who executed only the principal faces in many of his works of the 1590s. Narasimha used a distinctive system of color shading to create a kind of dark corona around the faces of the most promising figures. In some cases, such as that of the king, he strenghtened the contrast between figure and ground by extending this corona—often rendered as dark tufts—around much of the figure. Combined with dark, multiple outlines and unusually subtle modeling of both drapery and faces, this technique greatly enhanced the luminosity of his densely colored, minute figures.
Narasimha employs a remarkably similar composition in a painting from a contemporary Gulistan of Sa'di in the Cincinnati Art Museum. The landscape is comprised of two flat areas for the central drama, a lightly colored, organic outcrop swelling up behind onlookers in wave-like fashion, and a foreground ridge set at an opposite angle. A virtually identical dark tree with light-tipped leaves and bright birds again serves as the primary vertical accent.
John Seyller in [Seyller 2001]
1. Smart, Ellen and Daniel Walker. Pride of the Princes: Indian Art of the Mughal Era in the Cincinnatti Art Museum. Cincinnatti: Cincinnatti Art Museum, 1985
Inscription: 'amal-i Narasimha
Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi (1597/98)," June 9, 2005–September 4, 2005, no. II.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pearls of the Parrot of India: The Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi (1597/98)," October 14, 2005–March 12, 2006, no. II.
Valentiner, William Reinhold. "The Cochran Collection of Persian Manuscripts." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 8 (1913). pp. 80-86.
Wellesz, Emmy. Akbar's Religious Thought as Reflected in Mogul Painting. London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1952. ill. fig. 29.
Seyller, John. "The Walters Art Museum Khamsa of Amir Khusraw of Delhi." In Pearls of the Parrot of India.. Baltimore, MD: Walters Art Museum, 2001. no. II, pp. 48-49, ill. fig. 5 (color).
Brend, Barbara. "Illustrations to Amir Khusrau's Khamsa." In Perspectives on Persian Painting. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. pp. 198, 226-38, pp. 48, 264.