Approximately one century after the Persian poet Nizami wrote his Khamsa (Quintet), the Indian poet Amir Khusrau Dihlavi composed a response using Nizami’s structure but varying his stories slightly. This painting comes from the Mughal emperor Akbar’s (r. 1550–1605) copy of Amir Khusrau’s verses. It depicts a story told by a princess to the king Bahram Gur, about a youth and the fairy queen he imagines meeting nightly in a lush garden.
#6673. The Story of the Princess of the Blue Pavillion
Among the many tales recounted by travelers at his father's caravanserai, a story about a place inhabited by a mute populace dressed in violet so arouses the curiosity of a youth of Rum that he sets out immediately for the distant city with the narrator. When they reach the hot spring that marks the entrance of a house and grounds said to be filled with statues, the youth enters and wanders alone in a beautiful garden. At nightfall, the garden comes alive with a number of maidens, who detect the stranger and bring him before the queen. The youth is plied with wine and coquetry, and he quickly becomes ensnared in the tresses of love. The favors of the queen's attendants only whet the youth's ardent desire for her, but after a week of such diversion and seemingly on the verge of consummating his passion, he awakens from a wine-induced stupor to find himself alone in a desert, far from the enchanted garden.
Manohara's scene is considerably more chaste than the one described by the text. The queen of the fairies and the youth are properly sequestered in a pavilion, but the two lovers forgo the ubiquitous wine cup, which traditionally stirs one's passion and reflects the face of the beloved, in favor of a book. Two fairy musicians serenade the couple, while three of their winged comrades stand at a respectful distance and another hovers above in the night sky.Like the queen herself, these fairies represent a rare variety of their species, for, in addition to the customary pair of colorful wings, they sport a layer of tiny feathers over their bright, tight-fitting garments. Although such creatures appear regularly in Islamic art and lore, several of these fairies assume a somewhat European countenance, a characteristic they share with many mortals by Manohara's hand.
The three figures stationed before the garden wall display the same angular, heavily modeled faces seen in Manohara's painting on folio 51a (fig.11 in this volume), and perform a similar space-establishing function.The composition is divided abruptly into a light green tiled courtyard and a much darker garden; these two equal registers are joined both by minor repetitions of the opposite color in each register and by the subtle diagonals formed by the pavilion and pool and the gateway and waterwheel. Manohara enhances the thematic and compositional focus of the painting with color, lavishing bright orange accents and rich goldwork on the pavillion's occupants and trappings. Curiously, he does not employ the violet color that both pervades the fifth pavillion visited by Bahram and forms a leitmotif of the princess's story.
Two Folios from the Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi (nos. 13.228.29 and .33)
Among the many splendid manuscripts produced during the 1590s in the court workshops of Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) was an illustrated version of the Khamsa (Quintet) of the medieval sufi poet Amir Khusrau Dihlavi. Twenty-nine illustrated folios, several inscribed by leading court artists of the period, are now shared between the Metropolitan Museum and the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; the bulk of the text block and the painted lacquer binding are also in Baltimore. The flawless nasta‘liq calligraphy is by the hand of Muhammad Husain Kashmiri, whom Akbar titled Zarin Qalam (Golden Pen) and who wrote out the text at the rate of sixteen and a half lines per day. The luxurious illustrations, some signed, are surrounded by richly decorated borders, with figures, plants, animals, and birds outlined in gold.
While modeled on the Khamsa of Nizami (d. 1209) and thus paying homage to the Persian master’s classic text, Amir Khusrau’s quintet thoroughly localizes the form by rooting several of the stories in an Indian idiom. This illustration (13.228.29), taken from the Matla‘ al-anwar (Rising of the Luminaries ) section, depicts one such tale, that of a meeting between a Muslim pilgrim and a Brahman devotee. Here, the pilgrim, on his way to Mecca, meets the prostrate Brahman, clad in a simple white dhoti (draped garment) and traveling to a Hindu temple inch by inch along the ground. When asked the reason for his actions, the Brahman replies that he has turned his heart into a symbolic foot on which he makes his way to his idol. Impressed by this religious zeal, the Muslim removes his own shoes and continues his pilgrimage barefoot.
In the hands of the Mughal master Basawan, the subject is executed with the virtuosity of a painter in his prime. From the multilayered landscape setting, filled with observed and imagined vignettes, to the convincing manner (despite the unusual pose) in which the tensed toes of the Brahman are drawn, Basawan’s skill in rendering both composition and detail is manifest. His interest in Europeanizing elements can be seen in the modeling of the tree, the depiction of the architecture, and the Portuguese-style figures in the distance. The palette of pale, melting colors is another hallmark.
Taken from the Hasht bihisht (Eight Paradises) section of Amir Khusrau’s Khamsa, the painting by Basawan’s son Manohar (no. 13.228.33) illustrates a variation on the well-known allegorical tale of the Persian hero Bahram Gur, who makes a nighttime visit to a garden pavilion where he is entertained by a lovely fairy princess and her attendants. The couple are shown here resting against a brocade bolster rendered in two shades of gold, while, all around, winged creatures play musical instruments and present platters of delicacies. In the starry sky above, a figure covered in delicate feathers descends bearing a golden tray, and in the foreground, outside the garden walls, the prince’s attendants slumber beside a wakeful horse.
Manohar, a far greater conservative than his father, imbues the scene with all the traditional sweetness of the Indo-Persian tradition while retaining the formal reason of Mughal painting. The poetic, blooming night garden, enchanting fairies, and carefully observed waterwheel combine to create a Mughal vision of Amir Khusrau’s celebrated mystical verses.
Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Seyller 2001, pp. 39–40, suggests that the writing must have begun in early 1596 and been completed by regnal year 42 (March 1597–March 1598). Most scholars use the colophon date (1597–98), but the total production time would be 1596–98.
2. The manuscript contains the names of twelve artists and four illuminators, with further attributions. The inscribed names are those of the painters Basawan, Narsingh, Lal, Manohar, Sanwala, Farrukh Chela, ‘Ali Quli, Dharamdas, Farrukh, Jagannath, Mukund, Miskin, Madhav, and Surdas Gujarati and of the illuminators Mansur Naqqash, Khwaja Jan Shirazi, Lutfullah Muzahhib, and Husain Naqqash.
3. Brend, Barbara. "Akbar’s Khamsah of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi: A Reconstruction of the Cycle of Illustration." Artibus Asiae 49, no. 3–4, p. 283, points out that the Brahman’s pose here may have been adapted from a standing figure, accounting for the stiffness of the knees.
Signature: 'amal-i Manohara
Inscription: Signature in Persian in nasta‘liq script at bottom right-hand side of frame:
Work of Manohar
Alexander Smith Cochran, Yonkers, NY (until 1913; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Indian Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18, 1973–April 1, 1973, no catalogue.
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Barry, Mike, and Stuart Cary Welch. "et l'Enigme de Behzad de Herat (1465–1535)." In L'Art Figuratif en Islam Medieval. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. pp. 304-305, ill. p. 305 (color).
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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. 247B, pp. 339, 352-354, ill. p. 353 (color).
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